Starting next month, Wal-Mart will put radio-frequency ID tags on all its garments. By waving a wand, they can identify the location of every product, down to size and color. When you bring it home, the tag goes with you.
The removable tags are similar to the ones traditionally used to track large-scale shipments. Wal-Mart's decision to implement the technology will be the first adoption of RFIDs for a major retailer. And naturally there are privacy concerns:
While the tags can be removed from clothing and packages, they can't be turned off, and they are trackable. Some privacy advocates hypothesize that unscrupulous marketers or criminals will be able to drive by consumers' homes and scan their garbage to discover what they have recently bought.
They also worry that retailers will be able to scan customers who carry new types of personal ID cards as they walk through a store, without their knowledge. Several states, including Washington and New York, have begun issuing enhanced driver's licenses that contain radio- frequency tags with unique ID numbers, to make border crossings easier for frequent travelers.
"There are two things you really don't want to tag, clothing and identity documents, and ironically that's where we are seeing adoption," said Katherine Albrecht, founder of a group called Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering and author of a book called "Spychips" that argues against RFID technology. "The inventory guys may be in the dark about this, but there are a lot of corporate marketers who are interested in tracking people as they walk sales floors."
Basically, the scene in Minority Report where Tom Cruise has to rip out a guy's eyeballs to evade the omnipresent human-tracking strategies of the government-capitalist marketing complex? Almost there! [WSJ, image via Getty]