NEW YORK — Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) is putting electronic identification tags on men's clothing like jeans starting Aug. 1 as the world's largest retailer tries to gain more control of its inventory. But the move is raising eyebrows among privacy experts.
The individual garments, which also includes underwear and socks, will have removable smart tags that can be read from a distance by Wal-Mart workers with scanners. In seconds, the worker will be able to know what sizes are missing and will also be able tell what it has on hand in the stock room. Such instant knowledge will allow store clerks to have the right sizes on hand when shoppers need them.
The tags work by reflecting a weak radio signal to identify the product. They have long spurred privacy fears as well as visions of stores being able to scan an entire shopping cart of items at one time.
Albrecht worries that Wal-Mart and others would be able to track movements of customers who in some border states like Michigan and Washington are carrying new driver's licenses that contain RFID tags to make it easier for them to cross borders.
Albrecht fears that retailers could scan data from such licenses and their purchases and combine that data with other personal information. She also says that even though the smart tags can be removed from clothing, they can't be turned off and can be tracked even after you throw them in the garbage, for example.
So, what do you think? Is this a concern? Are the civil libertarians over-reacting? Is the real concern what this could lead to down the road?