Monday, July 26, 2010

What Do You Think About This?

Wal-Mart plan to use smart tags raises privacy concerns

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?


Mustang said...

I think it is a legitimate concern whenever others (government, corporatations) begin collecting personal information and creating data bases about who we are, our habits, and our movements.

Combine this with electronic medical records, add in the government's interest in keeping track of our weight and blood sugar vis-a-vis how many times we visit McDonalds ... and I think what we have is a degree of intrusiveness unimagined by our founding fathers.

It is technology; but I think we need to exhibit the wisdom of our founding fathers in deciding how to employ it. What this means, Chuck, is that we are all in deep trouble.

Z said...

Wow, how'd Albrecht get from what size underwear you and Mustang wear to drivers licenses and privacy issues?
They can know MY size, I don't care. When I was in college, I worked in sheet music and had to go through all the files every night to make sure what was sold out got replenished by me. I'd have loved a system like this.

Maybe this is a first step toward something NONE of us you imply and Mustang eloquently points out, but it sounded pretty innocent until Albrecht voiced concerns I think are overboard. I'm very happy to listen if you think I'm wrong and should be worried..
But, really, I'm so worried about so MUCh stuff about America these days that this didn't bug me much.

cube said...

I'm of two minds about this all depending on how the information going to be used. If it's in Big Brother fashion to track my every move, I'd be against it. If it was just going to be used to track their inventory, then I'm not all that concerned about it.

Lize Z said, there's plenty of other stuff to be worried about in the US today.

Hayden said...

The beauty of technology is that it often makes our lives easier (yet, some would disagree and say it makes life busier, louder, and more complicated); the horror of technology is that anything meant for good and efficiency can be used to intrude and derail basic liberties and individual privacy.

Never do we have a guarantee that such technology will not be used for the latter.

Chuck said...

I have a tendency not to worry too much about it if it is used for inventory only. The one thing I do not like is that it will be taken out of the store. I am a little unclear as to why this is. In Europe they take the tag off in the store.

I do see the opportunity for abuse with technology like this though.

LomaAlta said...

I agree Chuck. If it is for legitimate store usage, the tags should be taken off in the store.
Following them outside of the store is an invasion of privacy.

MK said...

This doesn't make any sense, if i buy a pair of trousers from Walmart, how the heck are they going to find out my drivers license details and all that.

Sounds like whoever designed the licenses did a piss-poor job of it.

In my view walmart can do what they like with their magic wands and underwear stocks. So long as they can't pick up other info.

Chuck said...

LomaAlta, thanks. There is no need to have them outside the store

MK, I agree on the licenses.