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Walmart to Push RFID

michael posted more than 10 years ago | from the done-deal dept.

Privacy 497

bravehamster writes "According to this article over at MSNBC, Walmart is going to push its suppliers to start using RFID to track inventory by 2005. The article goes on to mention how it was Walmart who helped jumpstart widespread adoption of barcodes. The report also points out some of the barriers in the way of RFID acceptance, but never once mentions consumer privacy concerns. Guess that kind of stuff just isn't important anymore."

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497 comments

the biggest concerns (4, Insightful)

double_plus_ungod (678733) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137301)

most everyone discussing these devices are concerned about the privacy issues--that they need to be fully deactivated after the purchase. big brother inside?

Re:the biggest concerns (4, Interesting)

Ryan Amos (16972) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137321)

I don't see why this should be so difficult. I mean, they do it today with a big magnet for shoplifting purposes, why can't you make an RFID tag that deactivates when placed over a big magnetic field? This way there's no need to worry about privacy and Walmart gets a way to save money by using technology that already exists in all their stores anyway.

Re:the biggest concerns (1)

gylle (531234) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137370)

Aren't the little tags dangling off of my keychains, the ones I flash at the office doors to get in, also RFIDs? If all these get all standardized, then won't this be analogical to me having a barcode tattooed to my forehead when I walk past the cash register. Perhaps the stores no longer need to push member discount cards to customers in order to maintain their database of who buys what if the customers have their own RFIDs.

As you say it would be nice if the RFIDs were deactivated when leaving the store. Otherwise, if the keychain RFIDs are more secure in some way, and don't work for third party tracking purposes, perhaps an individual can still be tracked if he is carrying stuff previously bought with RFIDs still intact?

the biggest concerns-Tag! Your it. (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6137393)

"most everyone discussing these devices are concerned about the privacy issues--that they need to be fully deactivated after the purchase. big brother inside?"

Is that anything like Intel Inside?

Re:the biggest concerns (4, Interesting)

dnoyeb (547705) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137398)

Why? These are IDs. I do not see what information they contain that you would be concerned about. they are not recording devices. I do not see any additional privacy concerns beyond what we have with store "savings/check cashing" cards and barcodes already.

I don't recall anyone with a cadilliac or other high end luxury car, or other passive anti theft car with the RFID tag in the key, concerned about privacy.

I don't recall any dolphins or sharks complaining about the RFID tag on their fins.

I'll complain when they try and tag my children at birth...

Re:the biggest concerns (safeway angle) (1, Interesting)

double_plus_ungod (678733) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137451)

I'll complain when they try and tag my children at birth...

the thing is that they don't need to tag you, they just need to tag your clothing, the currency you bring in your wallet, your photo id.... etc

now, all that is required is some sort of global database where they have a picture of you walking through the door, buying a [insert embarassing article here] and form letter blackmail.

no, i think it's the fact that the issue i bring up is that if your purchases retain the rfid function upon leaving the store, they become useful to the entity that decides to listen and track them: wal-mart's clothing aisle that insists that this pair of pants will match that shirt your wearing...

it's worse than the safeway club card because you knowingly give the club card to the entity; in this case, it may be against your will.

Re:the biggest concerns (3, Insightful)

UpLateDrinkingCoffee (605179) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137457)

I agree, in this case the privacy concerns are probably unfounded. The debate is healthy though, because by the time they try to tag your children at birth, it may be too late to stop it.

WOW FIST POST (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6137303)

*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_* [24.174.80.139]
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a|_______|_____________\__________|______|______a
t|_______`._____________|_________|_______:_____t
s`________|_____________|________\|_______|_____s
e_\_______|_/_______/__\\\___--___\\_______:____e
x__\______\/____--~~__________~--__|_\_____|____x
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o______\_____\______//_________(_(__>_\___|_____o
a_______\___.__C____)_________(_(____>_|__/_____a
t_______/\_|___C_____)/______\_(_____>_|_/______t
s______/_/\|___C_____)_______|__(___>_/__\______s
e_____|___(____C_____)\______/__//__/_/_____\___e
x_____|____\__|_____\\_________//_(__/_______|__x
*____|_\____\____)___`----___--'_____________|__*
g____|__\______________\_______/____________/_|_g
o___|______________/____|_____|__\____________|_o
a___|_____________|____/_______\__\___________|_a
t___|__________/_/____|_________|__\___________|t
s___|_________/_/______\__/\___/____|__________|s
e__|_________/_/________|____|_______|_________|e
x__|__________|_________|____|_______|_________|x
*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*_g_o_a_t_s_e_x_*


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[ Reply to This [24.174.80.139] ]

1 reply [24.174.80.139] beneath your current threshold.

Since when was consumer privacy important (1)

i_am_pi (570652) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137304)

They don't do anything worth being private about, do they?

Oh. Consumers, not computers. Whoops.

More seriously (1)

i_am_pi (570652) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137334)

Sure. Ignore consumer privacy. All the consumers with consumer privacy concerns will leave your business, and then you lose all your money.

Smart move.

No problem, I already boycott Wal-Mart (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6137308)

I don't want to shop in a store where, for all intents and purposes, their selection [buzzle.co.uk] and display [ajc.com] of merchandise is dictated by intolerant Southern bible-thumping asswads.

Re:No problem, I already boycott Wal-Mart (-1, Flamebait)

nagisa_kaworu (670866) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137382)

how the fuck is that flamebait? unless you are a southern bible thumping asswad in which case you are probably just pissed that there is no cross to go with the flame, misuse of mod points!!!!!

Re:No problem, I already boycott Wal-Mart (1)

reiggin (646111) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137444)

Somebody needs to go back to the faq and read the definition of flamebait. You fit it to a T. As the mods with more sense than you have already pointed out.

privacy in a store is not present (1)

double_plus_ungod (678733) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137315)

there are any number of video cameras and inventory-tracking devices in a store.

i bet wal-mart is keeping careful track of your shopping habits. rfids only serve their tracking needs better.

Re:privacy in a store is not present (1)

Jason1729 (561790) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137368)

Yes, but when you go back to walmart 6 months later wearing what you bought there before, they'll know who you are (if you bought it on your credit card), and they'll know exactly where you go throughout the store and how long you spend in each location.

What's to stop other businesses from tracking their customers using the tags from other stores too. It's just an arbitrary number stored on the card.

Jason
ProfQuotes [profquotes.com]

Re:privacy in a store is not present (1)

dirvish (574948) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137397)

With current technology I don't think the battery would last 6 months. Furthermore, I don't think Wal-Mart clothing lasts 6 months.

Re:privacy in a store is not present (1)

Jason1729 (561790) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137458)

With current technology? It doesn't take a battery, the power comes from the RF field generated by the reader.

It would be useless for inventory tracking if all your 6 month old inventory just disappeared off your inventory system.

If you think Wal-Mart clothing doesn't last 6 months, then you have a different problem

Jason
ProfQuotes [profquotes.com]

Re:privacy in a store is not present (2, Insightful)

aborchers (471342) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137455)

Can anyone actually provide evidence that it is technologically possible (not just theoretically, but practically in terms of present or near-future capabilities) to achieve this level of monitoring? You have to walk between a pair of very obvious posts just to activate a simple anti-theft tag. Is there any basis for the concern that someone can scan these weak transmitters from an effective distance, particularly among the babble of a few thousand of them in a concentrated space where I can't even pick up a cell phone signal?

Re:privacy in a store is not present (1)

Jason1729 (561790) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137473)

I got to play with a Raytheon RF ID tracker on one of my co-op work terms. It is just a single antenna that you can can hide pretty much anywhere (as long as it's not in an RF shielded box or something), and the range can be anywhere from a few inches to 50 feet. The one I used was intended to track vehicles as they drive along an expressway.

Jason
ProfQuotes [profquotes.com]

Maybe (2, Funny)

bazabba (669692) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137318)

...they'll stop asking for my zip code!!

Re:Maybe (1)

sixdotoh (584811) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137435)

since when does wal-mart ask for your zip code?

at Conn's however . . . man, i just went in with a free gift card and bought a few packs of regular AA batteries and the cashier took about 5 min to ring it up. had to give a phone number . . . got some receipt that looked like a certificate licensing you to practice hairdressing . . . i just wanted the batteries.

Re:Maybe (1)

jmuzic1 (637784) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137462)

I think the zip is for sales tax reasons...the rest is to add you to their marketing lists :)

Waaa waaaa "privacy concerns" (-1, Flamebait)

Ignorant Aardvark (632408) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137319)

I'm sick and tired of people whining about privacy concerns. I'm sure they're the same people who whined ten years when barcodes were coming in - "We're gonna lose privacy. Waaaaaa." Get over it. We didn't really lose privacy, and it made inventorying a lot simpler. I don't see how putting RFID tags in place of barcodes is going to cost us any privacy. So someone can query you wirelessly and find out what you bought - big f'ing deal! They could just look at the box, too!

Re:Waaa waaaa "privacy concerns" (3, Interesting)

dcuny (613699) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137377)

  • We didn't really lose privacy, and it made inventorying a lot simpler.

Well, yes... If you don't count that fact that stores keep track of every item you ever purchase, then no, there was no loss of privacy at all.

  • So someone can query you wirelessly and find out what you bought - big f'ing deal!

I think the idea was that people could track what you purchased after you left the store, which is a bit more insidious.

Maybe you're just being sarcastic. If so, it's too subtle for me.

Re:Waaa waaaa "privacy concerns" (2, Funny)

mattdm (1931) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137380)

Well, the plans seem to imply that the RFIDs would need to encode unique identifiers, not just one-number-per-product as with current barcodes. This would enable things like scanning an entire still-packed crate and getting a count of its contents. There's less incentive to do this with barcodes, since you'd still have to unpack the box and scan each one by hand, and you might as well just count 'em while you're doing that.

Plus, I suppose someone could drive a truck by your house and scan to see how good of a consumer you are.

Unless you have aluminum siding.

Re:Waaa waaaa "privacy concerns" (2, Informative)

knodi (93913) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137385)

Maybe you're just trolling, I can't tell. But I think the whole point of RFID is it's automatic. Sure, they could look at the box, and sure, they're already tracking barcodes. But with RFID, they can track all purchases and even the path a product takes throughout the store.

There's a hypthetical store that can track every thought you have, and present individually targeted ads that are so personally tailored that they can instantly create demand for every products at once. The "evil" store.

And there's a hypothetical store that just has its products on a well organized series of tables, and you just grab what you want and leave cash in a bucket on the honor system. The "good" store.

Nobody's suggesting that Walmart is the evil store, or that they suck because they're not just like the good store. What they're suggesting is that "good" stores are trying as hard as they can to become "evil", and our beloved technology is helping. THAT'S what people are upset about.

Re:Waaa waaaa "privacy concerns" (1)

ajf442 (139842) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137392)

Someone will probably come up with a RFID finder, so that people who want to preserve thier privacy can find and remove them.

Re:Waaa waaaa "privacy concerns" (1)

Pieroxy (222434) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137409)

And then I'll gave to pay big bucks for it right? And I'll find it normal...

Life sucks.

Re:Waaa waaaa "privacy concerns" (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6137425)

Well, this is different. Neat features of RFID tags:

1. Can be scanned from a short distance.
2. Virtually unlimit ID pool, every one ever made can be uniquly identified.
3. Not tide to a scanner, any one with an RFID scanner can track them. Even the bad guys.
4. Once everything has a tag installed, congress can be lobbied to make removing them illegal, or embedded in drivers licenses, etc.
5. Airports, bus stations, side walks, grocery stores can be equipped with scanners. Since eveything you wear, your shoes, your wallet, your watch, that clean pair of socks, has a chip in it you leave a trail where ever you go.

Cool trick: Bought a soda at the corner store? The store scanned your sunglasses when you came in and scanned your sun glasses and the soda when you left. Now you throw out that soda, and it leaves evidence you where present.

Another cool trick: You give 5$ to a friend for a six pack of beer. He doesn't get scanned and associated with the 5$ bill, and uses it to buy drugs. The cops nab the drug dealer with the 5$ bill and start back tracking where it's been. You're the last person scanned with it, they start asking questions....

With a large enough cloud of RFID scanners one could, in theory, track hundreds of people moving through a busy street in Manhattan. By grouping clouds of RFID tags together you could track the individual exchanges of goods between people in near realtime on a mass scale. It would make for a really cool web page.

RFID tags are cheap, they're not indistructable nodes, but any given person could have several on his personage with out even knowing it. It's a beatifully redundant system, that only gets stronger as more products embedd the tags.

It's great for tracking products, but the civil uses are way, way cooler. Once it's in place it will make tracking by GPS seem silly and arcane, and impractical.

Hear no evil, Speak no evil, See no evil. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6137432)

"I'm sick and tired of people whining about privacy concerns."

Coming from a guy called "Ignorant Aardvark" I'm certain there's a lesson there somewere.

First thing to buy at Wal-mart... (1)

Dr. Photo (640363) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137320)

... a bigger microwave.

Surely some of the hardware types around here can come up with the simplest and/or cheapest possible way to pinpoint and extract these things.

(Then collect a couple buckets full and mail 'em back to Walmart corporate HQ. ;)

Re:First thing to buy at Wal-mart... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6137429)

eh...

wtf are you mumbling about? I dont fucking get it. Lamer!

Re:First thing to buy at Wal-mart... (1)

jimmars83 (654100) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137434)

(Then collect a couple buckets full and mail 'em back to Walmart corporate HQ. ;) a couple buckets full? unlikely that would be like, a million I don't think we would be able collect enough of them to flood the corporate HQ by sheer volume. We could glue a smaller number of them all over their stuff, though.

Re:First thing to buy at Wal-mart...Sleepover. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6137452)

"... a bigger microwave."

Hey you and the guy [slashdot.org] with the "Tinfoil House" can get together and have a popover.

No problem, I already boycott Wal-Mart (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6137323)

I don't want to shop in a store where, for all intents and purposes, their selection [buzzle.co.uk] and display [ajc.com] of merchandise is dictated by intolerant Southern bible-thumping asswads.

Re:No problem, I already boycott Wal-Mart (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6137348)

I dont have a problem with the mags, but you fail to understand business.. They have to cater to the demands of the masses.. If they dont take action, then they have a huge boycott on their hands and that means lost revenue.

Re:No problem, I already boycott Wal-Mart (1)

duncf (628065) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137396)

If "Southern bible-thumping asswads" are "the masses" then you have no idea how glad I am to not live in your country!

Honestly! Do you really a significant portion of the population objects to the existance of Men's magazines in a store that already sells everything; clothes, groceries, drugs and gas?

2 questions... (5, Interesting)

heretic108 (454817) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137324)

Two questions regarding RFIDs:
  1. Once you take a product home, what's the cheapest and most convenient way of detecting an RFID tag? Is there any consumer-level equipment available to help with this without complication?
  2. Once a consumer discovers an RFID tag, is there an easy and convenient way for this tag be destroyed without damaging the product in any way?

Re:2 questions... (1)

craigtay (638170) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137337)

It will sure make it easier to snoop in on my roomate. Now I won't even need to pick his lock!

Re:2 questions... (1)

jericho4.0 (565125) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137423)

1) There small, but in most products you should be able to find them easily enough. Other products might be harder. 2) A microwave will fry the power generating circut in these things in an instant.

Re:2 questions... (1)

mrpuffypants (444598) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137431)

Remind me to bring these devices into walmart and kill entire racks of products.

"Price check at register 4....5.....7....n"

HAH (1, Funny)

DarkHelmet (120004) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137325)

I guess those barcodes Walmart tattooed on their employees and customers aren't good enough for tracking them.

Now they'll need radio tags to do the job right.

Supply line efficiency vs. privacy (2, Interesting)

eln (21727) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137326)

This technology can be revolutionary for maximizing the efficiency of the supply lines of very large companies such as Wal-Mart. However, the only real way to relieve privacy concerns is to come up with some way for the chip to PERMANENTLY disable itself when the item is purchased, in such a way that it is physically impossible to re-activate the device.

I don't think this will be done, however. What is more likely is some sort of software "de-activation" that will make consumers happy but will not necessarily be a true solution, in that it will be, at least theoretically, possible to re-activate the device.

Re:Supply line efficiency vs. privacy (1)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137405)

However, the only real way to relieve privacy concerns is to come up with some way for the chip to PERMANENTLY disable itself when the item is purchased

Good thought, though. Since an RFID is powered by the detector, maybe it can be overpowered, or burned out, in a similar process.

Re:Supply line efficiency vs. privacy (1)

jericho4.0 (565125) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137438)

RFID tags use a circut to generate power that can be fried easily by microwave radiation. I imagine that this would still leave the data on the tag readable.

Re:Supply line efficiency vs. privacy (1)

mrjah (574093) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137406)

This can already be done. When you buy a book at some chain bookstores, a very cheap tag is often hidden in its pages or on a sticker on the book cover. A mat on the checkout counter essentially renders the tag non-functional before you carry the book through the reader at the exit.

If you don't get the tag deactivated at the counter (implying purchase): "WOOP-WOOP. We're sorry. We failed to deactivate the inventory control tag on your purchase." Which is retail-speak for "STOP THIEF! ...or other person of interest!"

Recent conversation (4, Insightful)

Daikiki (227620) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137328)

I was talking with a friend about these things recently and he had some good ideas about practical uses for RFID tags. For one, a simple keychain sensor device could be programmed to keep track of your posessions. Wallets, cellphones, sunglasses, could be coded with these tags. If these items were to leave your direct vicinity, the sensor could inform you you're forgetting something. Or being robbed as the case may be.

Truth be told, I fail to see the privacy issues the adoption of these things would raise. I assume that, once you've brought your item home, you're free to remove the offending tag. Or, if you want to mess with the system, switch 'em around [re-code.com].

Re:Recent conversation (1)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137344)

Truth be told, I fail to see the privacy issues the adoption of these things would raise. I assume that, once you've brought your item home, you're free to remove the offending tag.

Yes, and in about twenty years, unless the public is continually informed about the possible abuses of RFID, everyone will forget.

Or tags will be made too small to remove.

Or hundreds could be put on products to prevent removal.

Or people could "accidentally" ingest them.

You're just not imaginative enough, son... :)

Re:Recent conversation (4, Interesting)

Daikiki (227620) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137391)

Hey, no basing my imaginations, pops ;)

Maybe I'm not paranoid enough. High tech crooks cruising a neighbourhood with souped up RFID sensors, scoping out homes to rob. Now there's a thought. The ultimate target is a home that reads plenty of consumer electronics and jewelry tags, but no toothbrushes or combs. Guess they're on vacation. In fact, I like the idea so much that I'd like to be the first to coin the phrase waRFIDing to describe it.

Note the limited description of RFID (0, Insightful)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137329)

From the article:
Inventory management technology that uses wireless signals to track products from the factory to store shelves is set to win a major new ally next week: Wal-Mart.

Only "track products from the factory to store shelves," eh?

This is why we don't want the media controlled by large corporations. The idea that RFID's can be used beyond "the store shelves" can be suppressed if the media speaks with one voice.

Re:Note the limited description of RFID (2, Insightful)

cperciva (102828) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137367)

Given that the initial plans are to embed RFID tags in the shipping crates -- not in the products themselves -- I'd say that the description given is entirely accurate.

Re:Note the limited description of RFID (1)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137394)

From the article:
For example, RFID could let a company add a boxful of goods to its inventory systems all at once, without having to unpack the carton and scan each piece separately.

They're talking about attaching the RFID tags to the products themselves.

Read more carefully.

Re:Note the limited description of RFID (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6137445)

Incase you didn't know WE (members of /.) are the media as well (at least the blances and check part of it).

Re:Note the limited description of RFID (1)

Kedyn's Crow (566552) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137475)

Sorry if I don't sound paranoid enough for you, but exactly how is Walmart supposed to be able to track these tags beyond the front door? There's simply no way that a RFID can have a transmitter powerful enough to send info over more than a few meters distance. Most of the products that Walmart sells come in a box and the RFID tag would be in or on the box. All you would have to do is throw away the container and and the tag would be gone. The only problem I would have with this is If the tried to embed these tags into clothes. But even then there are probably hundreds of commertial products that could fry RFID tags easily. In short their are far greater privacy threats out there than Walmarts latest inventory system.

As for media consolidation, well that's why I get most of my news online these days. :)

Already ready for this,,, (2, Informative)

PHAEDRU5 (213667) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137331)

I mean, haven't you seen the ad where the dude hides everything under his trenchcoat and gets charges anyway on the way out?

Yeah, I'm back to cash and the Chamblee Farmers Market.

Don't try trackn' me! Bastards!

What consumer privacy concerns? (1)

HornyBastard77 (667965) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137336)

How do RFIDs infringe on consumer privacy any more than checkout registers which track your purchases to calculate how much you need to pay the store and then link that to credit/debit cards? If somone is that concerned about their privacy then they need to pay in cash. Or shoplift.

Re:What consumer privacy concerns? Answer: Choice (2, Interesting)

pdxmax (583425) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137390)

Paying with a credit card is a choice the consumer makes. If some people are worried about a database tracking their purchases, at least they have the option to use cash. But with RFID, customers have no such option. Everyone can be tracked, regardless of whether they approve or not.

Re:What consumer privacy concerns? Answer: Choice (1)

HornyBastard77 (667965) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137453)

That is what bar codes or any point of sale inventory tracking systems do. And those are used pretty much everywhere. How are RFIDs any different as far as privacy issues are concerned? Because someone standing outside the store with an RFID reciever can scan your bags from a distance and see what you are purchasing? AFAIK they'd need a pretty strong and bulky scanner for that. And if somone is concerned they can just tear off the RFID tag after they pay for their purchase.

This tech is an awesome, easy to implement and cheap tool for SCM. Which ideally would lead to lower costs to the consumer and if not that, better service (fewer stockouts). Labelling it a privacy concern is just trolling, IMHO.

Re:What consumer privacy concerns? Answer: Choice (2, Interesting)

NoData (9132) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137471)

But with RFID, customers have no such option. Everyone can be tracked, regardless of whether they approve or not.

Uh..How?

I'm as big as a privacy buff as the next guy, but how the hell are the amassing a database about you simply by virtue of RFIDs?!

Like I mention below, the uproar with Benetton's plan was that the RFID was embedded in the CLOTHING. So that when you came BACK to the store, they could, ostensibly, compile a profile of your Benetton purchases by surrepitiously scanning your clothes as you came back in.

I'm going to assume, unless someone can demonstrate otherwise, that Walmart is interested in putting the RFIDs on the PACKAGING. On the long shot that the RFID *is* in the product itself, who cares? How often are you coming back to Walmart, with, say, the TV or the twizzlers you just bought there? And as for clothes...well, really, if you're dressing yourself at Walmart, you're on you're own, buddy.

But seriously, Walmart, unlike Benetton, doesn't sell high-ticket item clothes, and probably isn't interested in profiling their typical customers clothes buying habits, really. I doubt Walmart socks will have RFIDs embedded. Probably only the packages will.

Re:What consumer privacy concerns? (1)

OMEGA Power (651936) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137447)

All credit cards allow the company to know is the merchant, time, amount and sometimes location of a purchase. Credit card companies aren't told what items you bought. In addition rfids (unlike barcodes) are unique to the item, not just the type (i.e. all 20 ox bottles of Jolt Cola have the same barcode but if they added rfids each bottle would have a different id number) because of this companies, governemnts, etc could (and likley will if rfids become common place) use them to track people's movements both for comercial purposes (such as recording what someone is wearing and carrying when they walk into a store and linking it to what they buy in a marketing database) and things like tracking where people go for a wide range of reassons.

In addition, barcodes and credit cards have to be activly scanned and therefore the person knows whenever their card is being swipped, but rfids can be read at anytime without the knowledge or consent of the person who has them.

who gives a fuck? (-1, Troll)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137339)

I know most of the "editor" are white trash, but how the fuck is this news for nerds? It's saturday night. Aren't there any stories about disco balls case mods or turning your mac plus into a bong?

Re:who gives a fuck? (0, Offtopic)

cabra771 (197990) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137383)

It's saturday night.

What timezone do you live in again? Did I pass out earlier?

Innovation or domination? (2, Insightful)

reiggin (646111) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137340)

Walmart poses the same kind of question as Microsoft not so many years ago. Are they pushing innovation or are they simply doing whatever they can to be a bigger and more profitable company for their shareholders? I think we can guess which is more likely. Money and power obscure all concerns about their consumers' privacy. Walmart, on the other hand, does do much to keep its consumers happy. The Maxim discontinuation and the obscuring of women's magazines covers is in response to the family atmosphere that they seek to promote. It is not, as some flame-baiters maintain, an attempt to be repressive and just part of the Bible-belt mentality. They are reacting to their own market research that shows that most families (which it is families that shop at Walmart mostly, not hip 16 year olds who'd rather be at Abercrombie) would rather those things not be visible to their young children. Thus Walmart's policies put them in better light with the communities they overtake. If the communities don't want to have RFID tags and they make that known to Walmart, I wouldn't be one bit surprised if Walmart retracted this idea. Walmart knows very well that its money comes not from streamlined inventory but from the happy families that shop there.

OK Don't Get Paranoid, Yet (2, Insightful)

Little Brother (122447) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137341)

OK, I can understand the privacy concern, but don't let it get out of hand. It is very unlikly these devices will come with a power supply that lasts much longer than the expected shelf life of the item being sold. Also, in order to comply with FCC regulations, they couldn't transmit huge amounts of power or the total field strength in the walmart (where thousands of such devices would constantly be in operation) would exceed safty limits. This basicly means that they won't be able to track you far or long. Far enough to catch a shoplifter, possibly, far enough to keep track of you by a chip in your shirt you purchased at walmart? Probably, but the equiptment to do so would be way to expensive to do routinely, and face it, if the situation is beyond routine, "they" have much better ways of tracking people that don't rely on a chip that can be sent to a different continint via airmail. Most importantly though, with a scale of operations the size of walmart, does anyone think that they intend to spy on everyone there (more than they already can with a security camera every other step)? Inside the store possibly, but the logistics of setting up a grid that can track the transmitters outside of walmart would be extremly impractical. This will probably be what it is supposed to be, a way track not people but merchandise, which has no right to privacy anyway, and to catch people who want to get away with some of it. The only simi-paranoid-rallying use for this that they MIGHT be able to collect aggragate patterns to organize the walmarts for maximum impulse shopping success. But doesn't Kroger and many other grocery stores (with "discout" cards) do this already, yes, there was some minor outrage at first, but has anybody's rights to privacy been significantly damaged by these peaces of plastic? I doubt it.

Re:OK Don't Get Paranoid, Yet (5, Informative)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137357)

It is very unlikly these devices will come with a power supply that lasts much longer than the expected shelf life of the item being sold.

RFID tags need no power supply. They are powered by the reader. (From the radio waves emitted by it.)

From this [rfidusa.com] page:

An RFID system consists of an antenna or coil, a transceiver and a transponder or tag. A radio signal emitted by the antenna activates the tag allowing it to be read and in some instances have data written to it.

SWEET! -if I can get a reader for cheap (2, Funny)

JVert (578547) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137342)

I want a reader with good range, able to ping within 5 feet. Maybe 3, then I just need one for the fridge and one for the cubbord and not have to worry about noise interferance from the trash can.
Very exciting stuff boys and girls!
Tonight when I had to decide what to make for dinner I had to walk into the kitchen and look around for what I had. THEN I realized I had no milk for my macaroni and cheese.
Once these RFID's meet with grocery stores i can see whats avalable from my pda! webtablet! tv! iloo! ipod! cellphone!

New way to advertise (4, Interesting)

Visoblast (15851) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137346)

Before someone walks past an advertisement display, the display reads the RFID tags the person is carying, figures out things & brands the person might be interested in, and displays a targeted ad.

Mark this post. With RFID tags, this will happen. Just not right away, admittedly.

Re:New way to advertise (1)

dirvish (574948) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137420)

Like in Bourne Identity.

Mark this post. With RFID tags, this will happen. Just not right away, admittedly.

Sooner than most think.

Re:New way to advertise (1)

JVert (578547) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137454)

Bah,
You swipe your vons card as your groceries are being tallied and there is an monitor display with news and advertising there already, waiting for your attention. If you shop at Vons they know better then you when your wife is on the rag. But do they change the advertising with your buying habbits?

For those who dont shop at vons (bless you): No, they dont.

good tech for theives (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6137350)

instead of stealing from the store, now you can drive up next to a shipping truck and see if its full of potatoes or dvd players

privacy? (1)

1000101 (584896) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137356)

i'm no expert, but aren't rfid tags useless once you leave the store? i mean, they can't track you down the street when you go into the strip club can they? also, if you walk into a store, pick up a box, and walk around to shop some more, how does the store know who you are? i guess i'm a little confused... if rfid tags are a privacy concern, how do they track the individual anymore than a credit/debit card transaction? seems to me that this could be used as a method to reduce costs for businesses.

Re:privacy? (1)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137375)

i mean, they can't track you down the street when you go into the strip club can they?

Sure they could. If there was an RFID detector in the door frame of the club, you'd get close enough for it to detect any RFID tag on you.

also, if you walk into a store, pick up a box, and walk around to shop some more, how does the store know who you are?

It doesn't, unless you have RFID tags on you that have already been correlated with you in a database.

i guess i'm a little confused... if rfid tags are a privacy concern, how do they track the individual anymore than a credit/debit card transaction?

Because a credit card transaction isn't attached to your body and detectable from a distance.

Re:privacy? (1, Interesting)

Pieroxy (222434) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137459)

The problem is double:

1. Your credit card info is attached in their DB to all products you have purchased. SO when you enter a store (and you wear RFID tags) they can tell all your buyer history.

2. People from *outside* your house will be able to tell *EVERYTHING* that is inside. Magic of wireless... Technology freaks will drive around the neighborhoods with RFID readers to detect a 70" TV, or any other expensive stuff interesting to rob.

The thing to realize is... (3, Insightful)

M.C. Hampster (541262) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137359)


... this is going to be a huge boost for RFID's. I don't think most realize the huge amount of sway that Wal-Mart has in both the American economy and the World economy in general. They are a huge company: the first retailer to ever become the biggest company in the world. They should change the old saying to "As goes Wal-Mart, so goes the world..."

gun control (5, Insightful)

Wordsmith (183749) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137363)

I'm no gun control proponet, but I wonder if anyone has ever considered mandating these things inside handguns. ALthough there'd be a ton of black-market guns, guns built before the law, guns built outside of the us, etc around, the ones including an RFID would be awfully easy to detect in situations where security is paramount.

Not saying its a good idea, but I just wonder if its floating out there ...

Privacy? (1)

Chuu (307073) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137364)

Consumer privacy concerns? They already know what you are buying because, well, you do scan the barcodes already. Also, RFID tags are destroyed when you do buy something, for one reason among many being that you don't want to wreck havock with security when people who buy products with embedded RFID tags (i.e. some clothing) bring their products back in with them on subsequent visits.

RFID abuse is almost certain (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6137366)

RFID tags are a great idea, but the potential for abuse by data miners is simply too great-- greedy companies will be tripping over each other to collect data about you and sell it to other companies who want to advertise shit to you.

RFID tags in merchandise are only half of the equation-- the marketers need a way to attach that data to a specific person-- like if some state gets the bright idea to embed an RFID tag in its driver's licenses. Or if a credit card company puts one in your VISA or MasterCard. Then...

Bingo. Joe Blow walks through a doorway, and and any still-active RFID tags on his person are collected by the RFID tag reader built unobtrusively into the door frame. Some computer in the back room duly records that Joe Blow has a NJ driver's license, wears Lee Jeans, Hanes boxers, Reebok sneakers, and chews Big Red.

Re:RFID abuse is almost certain (3, Insightful)

NoData (9132) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137410)


Maybe not.

The problem with the Benetton plan was that the RFIDs were suppose to be embedded in the clothing itself. No one has ever said Walmart is asking for this.

Certainly, for non-clothing products, I doubt the RFID will be embedded in the product itself. That would be far too costly a change for the manufacturing process. Rather, it will probably be embedded in the packaging itself (like UPCs).
Even for clothes, I imagine (in Walmart's case) the RFID will be in the clothing tags or packages. I can't imagine Walmart convincing Fruit of the Loom to embed RFIDs in every pair of briefs.

I think the article does not mention privacy concerns because, frankly, unless the RFID is somehow permanently associated with the product, there are no privacy concerns.

Walmart often bullies suppliers, this is no diff. (2, Interesting)

buddhapkt (549319) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137369)

RFIDs have the potential to be an excellent inventory tracking device but as this discussion has brought to light there are many issues regarding privacy the public is still concerned about. Rather than let suppliers come to grips with these issues over time Walmart has flexed its buying power over its suppliers and will force them to do what THEY want regardless of what the public or these supply companies believe. I work in the manufacturing sector and I have seen Walmart do this all to many times. For example, Walmart more often then not will force a company like Black and Decker or Eureka to produce a model just for them that fits Walmart's ideal price no matter how much the quality of the product will be affected. I just want to point out that although this article portraits Walmart as a champion of technolgy with this move, IMHO their bullying is not fair or just....

Simple solution... (4, Funny)

PS-SCUD (601089) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137371)

Just wrap your entire house in alunimum foil.

I don't see what the big deal is?

Simple solution...Jiffy pop. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6137401)

"Just wrap your entire house in alunimum foil.

I don't see what the big deal is?"

I guess you'll find out, come summertime how popcorn feels?

They can do it (4, Informative)

dirvish (574948) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137376)

If anyone can get the ball rolling on RFID it is Wally World. They have lots of experience putting pressure on manufacturers and distributors. They will just tell the distributors NO RFID=No Wal-Mart. They have so much buying power they can always find someone to sell cheaper, or in this case someone cooperate w/ the RFID rollout. Check out this AlterNet article [alternet.org] about Wal-Mart's questionable business and employment practices. It is titled How Wal-Mart is Remaking our World: Bullying people from your town to China

Re:They can do it (1)

mrpuffypants (444598) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137419)

Wal-Mart can be pretty despicable at times. My dad's big in his postal union and they're always talking about Wal-Mart (very anti-union)

For a while they told workers that they'd "really appreciate" it and that it'd "up the stock price" if they would stay after their shift and work for free for an hour or two.

big no-no

High Tech Burglary (1)

aSiTiC (519647) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137389)

At first I thought, like many, that privacy concerns regarding RFID is no big deal. So what it really doesn't matter?

But then on second thought, a burglar could drive through a neighborhood querying for expensive items, such as a HDTV, and use that information to decide which houses to rob.

Maybe there are distance limitations, but just get a good transceiver and filter the noise. High tech burglars are coming.

Walmart = sleaze (5, Insightful)

SuperBanana (662181) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137403)

A friend and I were walking through walmart to get some engine coolant(minor emergency, no choice), and I expressed my distaste for walmart. She asked, "Why? Where else could you get all these wonderful things?"(points to grocery section, hardware, etc.)

My answer was rather simple. "Well, before Walmart, the center of my town- the local town hardware store, the local grocery store, and so on. But thanks to Home Depot and Walmart running all the local businesses out, now you can't get anything without driving 20+ minutes". So now, for the $2 in savings, I've got to burn $2 in gas just to get there. I've got to spend 5 minutes finding a parking space, 5 walking from the lot into the store, another 5 trying to find the section and get there, another 5-10 waiting in line...so on etc. That's 'better'?

All because the only thing consumers value these days is the pricetag- not all the other benefits that come from giving your business to a small, locally owned business...or the hidden costs(your time, travel expenses, etc). Lost your reciept? Walmart tells you to go fuck yourself,m you shoplifting scum! Joe at Joe's Hardware remembers selling you that door hinge a few days ago- so the answer is "hey, no problem, here's your money." Not to mention, Joe knows what he's talking about when you ask him a question about doors, instead of some PFY who blankly stares at you because you asked something other than "what aisle is ___ in?"

You know what? It's not the only thing that bugs me about Walmart- their people are downright sleazy. It's stuff like the stories about Walmart managers taking donated items out of charity dropboxes in the stores that were not in walmart bags, and restocking them onto the shelves. Why? Walmart claimed it was to prevent shoplifting(or, in this case, 'shopdonating'), and items not in Walmart bags must not have been legitimate purchases. The donation box was AFTER the registers, not before. Further- ever been in a Walmart? There's more security cameras than you can count- yet a)items were supposedly shoplifted, yet not caught on tape and b)supposedly walmart didn't have any security cameras covering the area where the donation box was. Uh huh. Oh, and don't get me started on Walmart's union-busting...

It's so frustrating to see these giant box stores pop up. A big part of the local economy shifts over to that one store- all the mom+pops die off, and everyone that worked for mom+pop end up working for Walmart, they get nice clean blue uniforms, and all is(mostly) good. What happens when Walmart goes the way of K-mart, Caldoors, Bradlees, etc...or decides that store isn't quite profitable enough? Oops. Smallville's unemployment just went to %50.

Re:Walmart = sleaze (1, Insightful)

DrMrLordX (559371) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137437)

Not that I love Wal-Mart, but where I live, it's a shorter drive to the closest Wal-Mart than to all of the stores I might need to visit to get all the goods and services offered by the local Wal-Mart. I can also do this and at least purchase most of said goods at any time of the day(okay, so if I want an eye exam, I'll have to go during the day). The parking at Wal-Mart is usually ample, at least around here, as opposed to a lot of older local "mom & pop" joints. Want to park downtown? Forget it. You pay or you get lucky and find an empty meter and . . . pay slightly less.

Re:Walmart = sleaze (1)

LiENUS (207736) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137477)

friend and I were walking through walmart to get some engine coolant(minor emergency, no choice) in an emergancy water works just fine

Do the IDs tell what the product is? (3, Interesting)

gylle (531234) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137411)

Are the RFIDs on products plain serial numbers without meaning, or do they contain information about the product? Would it be worthwile to by a handheld RFID reader and scan for fun stuff in crowded places, e.g., recently bought:
  • pregnancy tests
  • sex toys, porn and lubricant
  • medication for embarassing illnesses
  • guns
Any other suggestions? ;-)

Er (1)

DrMrLordX (559371) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137412)

One thing I don't entirely understand is why they insist on embedding the RFID tags in the products themselves instead of in the packaging. If they want inventory control, well, why not just stick the tag in the packaging? About the only problem that would present is if the product was removed from its packaging before purchase, which is a problem even without RFID tags. I suppose, theoretically, shoplifters could remove products from the packaging and walk out of the store with them, but that wouldn't be hard to do even if the tags were embedded in the products(just put it in a satchel or something lined with lead or some other material that might block the waves used to query the tag).

I would rather see packaging contain some kind of RFID tag plus a device to transmit a signal to some kind of receiver in the store to indicate that the package had been opened(a device that could be removed/disabled at sale) than see RFID tags in the products themselves. Once the product leaves the store(purchased legally), the RFID tag serves no legitimate purpose.

They may *HAVE* to diable tags after a purchase.. (1)

UpLateDrinkingCoffee (605179) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137413)

Think about clothing, or wallets for example. If they didn't diable the tag after you purchase the item, what is to stop them from charging you again next time you visit the store? Also, this would wreak havoc on their inventory control. They would have no idea what is personal property and what is product! I'm guessing they won't go to that trouble though and only scan for the codes in close proximity.

For real - what's the big deal with these? (1)

legLess (127550) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137414)

This isn't a flame or a troll, just an honest question: what's the BFD about these tags? They'd be a privacy concern to me if they had a long range, or couldn't be removed, turned off, or killed. But AFAIK none of that is true -- they have a very short range, they can easily be removed if you find them, they probably can be disabled remotely, and they can certainly be killed by EMP or something similar.

For everyone else in the supply chain the benfits are almost incredible: automatic inventory tracking among them. I worked in an auto parts warehouse during school, and a system like this would have saved them an unreal amount of money.

The worst thing about them is their potential, I think. I dread the thought of devices of this type implanted in infants at birth. But that's a pretty far-out slippery slope argument, and a very different issue.

So tell me -- for real -- what's the privacy issue here?

I'm amazed (1, Insightful)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137427)

I've been reading the comments and watching the moderation of this story for the past ten minutes.

I'm really amazed by all of the posts belittling the potential danger of RFID's. Also, many comments talking about RFID abuses, or even asking sane questions about them, have been moderated down. Then comments like this one [slashdot.org] are moderated up.

I find that odd.

Auto-ID Center (1)

daigu (111684) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137433)

If you want to know more about it, try MIT's Auto-ID Center [autoidcenter.com]. There is a lot of good applications of this technolgy. For instance, there is something cool about flipping a switch and having your entire inventory done - or better yet, having an up-to-the-second inventory. Problem at this point is that they aren't cheap enugh. I think the price point needs to get down to 5 cents - and right now it is at fifty or something.

One of the things I found odd is that not only is Wal-Mart pushing it - but it seems the garbage dump folks are interested too. Might make the Junkyard Wars of the future a little less fun to watch I suppose.

A useful link... (1)

mrjah (574093) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137463)

In case anyone's interested in the forefront of RFID... I think MIT's Auto-ID Center [autoidcenter.org] would be a great place to get answers to about half of the questions I've seen in this discussion so far. Plus, they're nice folks and their server could use some exercise.

For instance:
YES, it could potentially track individual items.
NO, it's not battery powered.
YES, it will reveal all your LOX purchases to the Secret Government.

Cool use of RFIDs (2, Interesting)

Lord_Dweomer (648696) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137468)

How bout this.....you're sitting at home....and you need to buy a bunch of stuff from Wal-Mart.....go to their website....fill out a cart....and either pay with a credit card online...or at the store (i'm getting to that). Then, it prints out a piece of paper with a barcode. You go to the store, and scan the barcode into a little handheld GPS unit. The unit then lights up and shows you graphically where all the products on your list are. If you paid by credit card at home, you walk your cart through the scanner and leave (provided you didn't take anything "extra") and if not, you can pay at the register. Not everything has to be evil....but I will still wear my tin foil hat while shopping at Wal-Mart now.

The good, the bad and... (1)

perc (518738) | more than 10 years ago | (#6137472)

As with most technologies, RF ID tags can present a major benefit... but (as has been extensively noted here on slashdot) will present some concerns ot people used to the current situation.


Firstly, when people say "improve inventory tracking, from manufacturing to the shelf", do they really realise how much goes on in that simple statement? There are many stages involved in a supply chain like Walmarts, and RF ID tags will improve the accuracy and efficiency of every single one of them. Manufacturing -> Central Storage -> Local Storage (within 100mi of store) -> Store Storage (back rooms) -> Shelves. At each level there are significant levels of automation (packing, conveying and sorting, and distribution). The improved accuracy could ensure that a truck leaving a central warehouse for a local warehouse would always contain exactly what is required... even a .1% error rate is too large when dealing with Walmart's volume. Ideally, the extra accuracy would result in passing on of at least some of the savings to the consumer /naive.


But it doesn't even stop there... tracking of product on the shelf can result in more efficient consumer shelf stocking... how often have you wanted a product to find the shelf empty? With RF ID tags, the store will know it's empty as soon as it becomes empty, and Drone_X can replace the shelf product almost immediately.


Regarding the privacy concerns, you cannot stop a store knowing what you are purchasing at the instant of departure... even with good old fashioned human eyes and manual calculation. The concern most people have is that the tracking will continue into their personal lives.

a) I predict that most RF tags will be in packaging or cases. and

b) in situations where they aren't, they could provide enough of a personal benefit that people will be able to deal with the risk of Big Brother knowing... e.g. the fridge that tells you when you're low on product X, or more importantly, exactly how long Product Y with what looks like might be mold on it has been in the fridge (or is it just french cheese?). As another poster mentioned, a device could indicate when your wallet or keys get left behind or stolen. another possibility is smart washing machines that will warn you that you've just put a cashmere sweater on a high heat cycle or a a PC interface to your wardrobe that will tell you if that shirt you wanted to wear is in the wardrobe or in the wash.


There are people that would be willing to pay for these services, and they are most easily enabled by RF ID.


Ultimately, I think consumer pressure will ensure that there will be a way to remove, or disable RF ID tags, but I think that before too long, most people won't want to because they will become too useful in the home.


By the way, the store doesn't have to disable them to prevent double charging... assuming tags have unique IDs, the system can simply log that ID_XYZ has already been paid for and shouldn't be charged again. What's that? concerned that someone knows you entered the store? ... when was the last time you used a credit card or debit card in Walmart?

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