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Walmart Begins Rollout of RFID and EPC Tags 462

Posted by michael
from the mark-of-the-benton-beast dept.
paroneayea writes "There's a lot about RFID tags in the news today. Wal-Mart is officially beginning to use RFID tags on its merchandise. We've heard about Wal-Mart's plans to introduce RFID tags in the past, but this is the first time that this is actually being put into use. To quote the article: 'Wal-Mart is billing this as a trial, but Simon Langford, Wal-Mart's manager of RFID strategies, told RFID Journal that this is the beginning of the company's planned roll-out of EPC (Electronic Product Code) technology.' Meanwhile, California does something right for a change and introduces a bill that will limit the use of RFID tags in stores and libraries to protect the privacy of customers. IBM, which plans to be a major manufacturer of RFID tags, bashes critics of RFID tags as 'anti-retail.'"
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Walmart Begins Rollout of RFID and EPC Tags

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  • UPC (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:27PM (#9019706)
    If anyone can give RFID tags ubiquity, it's Wal-Mart. We have them to thank for UPC (for those from the Department of Redundancy Department: UPC codes).
    • IBM (Score:2, Funny)

      by bonch (38532)
      My question is, is IBM good or bad today?
    • Re:UPC (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ackthpt (218170) *
      If anyone can give RFID tags ubiquity, it's Wal-Mart. We have them to thank for UPC (for those from the Department of Redundancy Department: UPC codes).

      As I learned with EDI, it's the big dogs which drive the technology. GM insisted their suppliers use EDI or they wouldn't be suppliers. EDI made rapid progress in the auto supplier industry, Ford got on the badwagon, too, as it made logistics simpler.

      With a big dog like Walmart wagging the RFID tail, suppliers will find other customers willing to use th

    • Re:RFID info (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      RFID tags can be read and written to and can have memory capacity from a few K to 8Megs (probably more now). They use the RF energy hitting their antennae to power the device for serial readout. The range can be anwhere from a few feet to 0.5 miles. Alot of trucks and train cars can be scanned up to 0.5 miles as they go by to find out what they are supposed to contain by getting a Bill of Lading list from the memory contained in them. Moreover, the contents could contain the truck and train serial number at
  • by RobertB-DC (622190) * on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:28PM (#9019714) Homepage Journal
    I knew that privacy advocates were fans of Katherine Albrecht's CASPIAN [spychips.com] project, but I had no idea that she had the RFID industry this scared.

    "Katherine Albrecht has some sort of weird thing in her mind that helicopters might descend and follow you, I mean, how low are these things going to fly?" said Shearer. "I don't understand it basically. She has a particular view, that she's doing God's work and is going to protect us from the globalisation of retailing."

    It's been a while since I really scrounged through the CASPIAN sites, but I don't recall reading anything about "helicopters might decend" (and Google [google.com] seems to agree with me). And a large number of folks in this country think that "doing God's work" is a Good Thing, and would take offense at "God's work" being used as a negative epithet.

    They even try to say she's "anti-retail". What the heck does that mean? If anything CASPIAN is pro-retail, trying to preserve the ability of non-registered human beings to buy staple goods at a fair price [nocards.org]. What's anti-retail about that?

    If the RFID industry thought Albrecht was on the fringe, they'd ignore her. When you see IBM's mouthpiece painting Albrecht as a rabid conspiracy theorist, you realize they know she's not on the fringe anymore. And they're scared.

    The open question remains: if the chips are so innocuous, why is the RFID industry so scared of this lady?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Sure, label them as "the RFID industry" to distance yourself, and dehumanize them. The ugly truth of the matter is that RFID tags are morally neutral technology, and can equally be used for good or ill. Dsitributors, who are people, will decide when, where, and how.
      • by RobertB-DC (622190) * on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:39PM (#9019854) Homepage Journal
        At first, I thought you were joking.

        Sure, label them as "the RFID industry" to distance yourself, and dehumanize them.

        "Dehumanize them"? Wal-Mart is a corporate entity. IBM is a corporate entity. They aren't human in the first place, therefore I *can't* de-humanize them.

        The problem is when we *humanize* these megacorporations. Then, we are in danger of expecting them to behave in a humane way. The mom & pop store on the corner can be trusted exactly as much as its owner can be trusted. A shareholder-owned corporation can be trusted to do one thing and one thing only: attempt to make money for its shareholders. Remember when Wal-Mart used to be the "Made in the USA" company? When that quit being profitable, it quit being a slogan.

        Distributors, who are people, will decide when, where, and how.

        Distributors are people? If I can see one and talk to one, sure. Last time I was at Lowe's, I talked to an *employee* of a distributor. He would have no more control over RFID tags than I would. No, it's companies -- who are NOT people -- who will decide when, where, and how. And I don't like it.
        • Wal-Mart is a corporate entity. IBM is a corporate entity. They aren't human in the first place ~.
          They may not be humans, but they are legal Persons [ratical.org], with many of the same rights (and more, in some cases) than we meat-people.
        • An Opportunity (Score:3, Insightful)

          This is not to discount the privacy issue - but

          May I propose a bright Side?

          We GIVE thousands of bottles of medicine to hospitals in Iraq. The day they arrive they are taken out the back door and distributed by a mafia blacl market.

          That and not a fanatical religion is what is standing in the way of progress.

          Progress in developing countries can be measured as the time it takes for people to assume that dishonest acts will be punshished.

          Transparency.org tracks public perception regarding corruption for va
    • by dnoyeb (547705) on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:39PM (#9019849) Homepage Journal
      These RFID tags look like a faster simpler replacement for barcodes. I still don't understand what all the fuss is about.

      Its for inventory. Why should I care how Wal-mart or any company manages their inventory? If they try to keep them embedded in the items you purchase such as shoes, or pants, then I'll take issue. Else, its a non-issue. Give it a rest.
      • by ACNiel (604673) on Friday April 30, 2004 @02:09PM (#9020874)
        The whole problem with them is they stay on your clothing, your shoes, your car tires, etc.

        If someone could associate your purchase of a jacket to you, maybe because you used a credit card to make the purchase, then that person or organization could track your movements across the world. The technology used to read the tags is relatively passive. You walk through a doorway with a tag on, and it could be scanned.

        This is the fear. It is unclear to me how unique the ID's are, and if they could be used this way.

        And as all RMS followers know, as soon as the information is collected, whether it is illegal or not, it will find a way to get into someones hands that you don't want to know it.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I respect much of her work, particularly nocards, but Katherine is a little off the deed end sometime.

      She takes the idea that tagged merchandise can be loaded into trucks, and shipping companies can track their trucks with GPS, and then speaks out about satellite monitoring of RFID.

      She's a little heavy on the FUD.

      As far as the work of the Big Guy in the Sky, while I've never heard her mention it publicly, I know that she is a mark-of-the-beast-er. I find the beliefs kind of silly, but if you translate t
    • by Ra5pu7in (603513) <ra5pu7in@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:43PM (#9019901) Journal
      "Why is the RFID industry so scared of this lady?"

      Because enough people will take what she says as absolute truth and not actually look into the issue themselves. Particular to this is using derogatory terms -- you mentioned the use of "God's work" as an epithet, but what else would you call "spy chips". Mob mentality -- if you convince enough people that some object or power is evil and dangerous, even the safest, most harmless devices will get banned in the backlash.

      There are definitely scary, privacy-invading uses of RFID tags -- but there are also beneficial uses that don't invade privacy. The problem is not the tags, in and of themselves. It is in the data that can be stored on them and who can access that data. She does have valid points, and the RFID industry would do well to heed her concerns. Her aim does not appear to be working to find the optimal path that works for both sides -- it is totally consumer oriented.
    • by kfg (145172) on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:58PM (#9020073)
      And a large number of folks in this country think that "doing God's work" is a Good Thing, and would take offense at "God's work" being used as a negative epithet.

      Which a large number of people find offensive.

      Neither your offense nor theirs confers any behavioral obligations upon the other.

      As it happens I really don't like yellow. I don't know why, I just don't. It offends me. I do, however, recognized that as my problem, not the problem of the people who paint their kitchens yellow or drive yellow cars.

      It seems to me that if you wish to be effective in doing God's work (and there are some God fearing people who find that idea offensive. It is taking the Lord in vain. He is perfectly capable of doing his own work), the first thing you have to do is learn not to offended by people who take exception to that. Anger ( and offense is a form of anger) is not one of the Christian tools.

      Peace, brother.

      KFG
    • by dnoyeb (547705) on Friday April 30, 2004 @01:19PM (#9020327) Homepage Journal
      These devices can NOT be used on doorways for several reasons, not the least of which is the DMCA.

      1. These devices are low power low frequency devices which must be VERY close to the antenna since the anteanna is providing the power for the chip. They don't contain batteries.

      2. If used on a passageway, think of those with pacemakers passing through this 'exciting' antenna doorway.

      3. People with passive entry systems such as those on BMW or Volvo will be disturbed to know Wal-Mart is reading their Key-Fobs (which contain RFID tags) when they pass through the doorways. And note that these RFID tags data is encrypted, so the DMCA can play a role here. That is, the ID is not encrypted, but if they think its one of their tags, and start trying to read the data, they could get into trouble.

      Side note. man people predict passive entry will replace key-less entry within 10 years. if this is the case and were all walking around with RFID keys to our cars, privacy concerns could go up quite a bit.
    • If anything CASPIAN is pro-retail, trying to preserve the ability of non-registered human beings to buy staple goods at a fair price. What's anti-retail about that?

      It's "anti-retail" if you try to limit the use of RFID tags to just in-store use. The retailers can always find some use of out-of-store tags in such a way to "enhance" their hold on the customer. At the most basic level, the live tags can be used by anyone who wants to pay a fee to Wal-Mart to gain access to the (Wal-Mart customer) information they get off of pinging the tags when they come by their own properties.

      In America, placing any restrictions upon commerce is now viewed as being "anti-business", much like criticizing the political leadership or military is viewed as "anti-American". These views are very apt; they just demonstrate as clearly as possible that the corporations are in total control of the economic environment (rather, they think they have to right to be in control) and those that disagree must be condemned and eventually forced to accept their hegemony.
    • I contribute monthly to the EFF, and I've spent the past 5 months working with and understanding RFID technology, right down to getting baked by a reader.

      There are two types of RFID tags: Active and passive. Active tags have a battery and transmit a signal. They cost a few bucks apiece; they're cheap enough for a lot of good uses, such as locating expensive mobile equipment in hospitals ("Oh, the machine that goes, 'Ping!" is on the third floor women's bathroom!"), but far too expensive to track consumer items -- say, a can of soup. They're also pretty large, since they need an antenna and a battery.

      Passive tags are powered by the radio waves themselves. These are the ones that will eventually be cheap enough that they can be put on individual cans of soup, maybe in two to three years.

      In order for a passive tag to get enough power to transmit its unique identification number, a few things need to happen. The tag itself -- although it's a very small chip -- needs a rather large antenna to pick up enough energy to get power. The smallest ones I've seen are about 3" long. The RFID reader needs to have a VERY powerful microwave transmitter and antenna. The devices I worked with required me to be at least nine inches away from them most of the time to keep from getting cooked. Even with this powerful reader and large antenna, I've had to hold tags about a foot away from the antenna for a good second or three to see them show up.

      Now what are we afraid of regarding RFID? Well, we're afraid that beyond the point of sale, someone will put a reader on us and know all about us or be able to track our movements, because we'll be covered in these RFID tags with unique identifiers.

      Now we've seen technology advance, but Physics is Physics. A tag with an antenna no smaller than 3" in size has to be held within a foot of a reader powerful enough to warm your skin for a second to transmint 30-odd bits of data. This is not going to change unless the laws of Physics change first -- there is no technology to change this.

      You're going to be able to find RFID tags in your stuff, because the large antenna will give itself away. And you're not going to patiently stand and pose next to a high-powered reader while it tries to sort out all of the tags you're wearing ("Excuse me, can you kneel down so I can get the one on your eyeglasses? Now lift your feet, I can't see your shoes..."), unless you're cold and want to warm up really fast.

      What I've laid out here is not common knowledge. That's a big part of the reason I'm writing this now: I know that Slashdot readers are concerned about the issue and are capable of understanding the science behind the issue. Once you understand the issue, you realize that the government isn't going to be using this to track your movements -- from a foot away. People are not going to be able to surreptitiously scan you to learn all about you -- while asking you to stop and pose for the antenna. You're not going to be covered in three-inch-long RFID tag antennas without your knowledge.

      I believe that you should be taking neither my word for it nor CASPIAN's. You should do your own research and learn. Don't co-opt someone else's point of view or trust that they've done their due diligence just because you share the same political point of view as he or she does. You may be pro-EFF, just like me -- that doesn't mean you should trust what I've said. You may have beliefs similar to Albrecht's -- but you shouldn't trust that she's done her homework, either!

      In practice, you, me, and everyone else does trust the leaders of organizations we agree with to have done their due diligence and to know more than we do about issues. And we do co-opt their points of view. That is why IBM is speaking out: Because it's clear that although Albrecht doesn't understand RFID technology, people are listening to her.

      I'm concerned enough about the preservation of civil liberties to donate regularly to the EFF. After working with RFID technology for the past several months and seeing its inherent limitations, I feel that we have little, if anything, to fear from this technology. But don't take my word for it because I claim this is true; do your own research.
  • by nurb432 (527695) on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:29PM (#9019734) Homepage Journal
    Since we cant stop the flood of the damned tags, and they are now on our doorstep, what can we do to at least safely destroy them after we get home.

    And no, i dont want to stick my clothes in a microwave oven..

    Its invasive and i refuse to walk around notifying my purchasing habits. ( yes, i do pay cash.. )
    • Be sure to destroy your money, credit cards, ID and everything else that can be used t otrack you. Get off the internet and pull your phone out of the wall. Then burn off your fingerprints and run naked through the streets screaming about how the technology is out to get you.
      • Thanks for being an idiot.

        I really was serious. I guess you dont mind invasion of your privacy.
        • "I really was serious. I guess you dont mind invasion of your privacy."

          Please explain how you can go into Walmart and shop in private. Unless your shoplifting you can't do it.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      If you are buying clothes from Walmart, then you have a lot more to worry about than being tracked.
    • Its invasive and i refuse to walk around notifying my purchasing habits

      So you walk around naked, in home-made clothes?

    • Simple. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by NineNine (235196) on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:40PM (#9019859)
      Don't shop at Wal-Mart. I mean, really. For all the bitching here on /. about MS, Wal-Mart is a MUCH bigger, MUCH nastier company. I haven't been in to a Wal-Mart for many years, and I haven't missed it one bit.
    • the rfid tags are in pallets and cases, not individual items. is it that hard to read any article about this topic in the last year?
  • by Shivetya (243324) on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:29PM (#9019738) Homepage Journal
    "A spokeswoman for Bowen said getting the bill through the Senate--which approved it in a 22-8 vote--was relatively easy because the senators as a group don't have a thorough grasp of the technology. "

    I am more concerned with a bunch of aristocrats setting policy without knowledge than what Wal-Mart is doing.

    I also fail to see the privacy issue. The tags do not tell the store WHO you are. They can't see you walk out and say, "Joe took a walk-man out of the store" they can only say that one left.

    Besides, where was the concern when tags were placed inside of CDs and DVDs? Is this just another "attack Wal-Mart" parade? Wal-Mart is big, but they still are only 8% of the retail market... which makes them anything but a monopoly.

    • by JawFunk (722169) on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:35PM (#9019801)
      The tags do not tell the store WHO you are. They can't see you walk out and say, "Joe took a walk-man out of the store" they can only say that one left

      The tags don't give your name away, but your credit card does. Personally, I use cash whenver it's not too incovnenient, but the mjoriy of purchases, especially those over $40, are made with credit cards. The store then has the ability to see what RFID tags you bought (along with the products) and see where you take them.

    • But what if you paid with a credit card? Then they can link you to the RFID tag.

      Let's say its a piece of clothing that you buy. Every time you re-enter the store, they know who you are and can start tracking your purchasing habits even if you decide to pay cash for your purchases that day.

      Then one day the government decides they don't like you and issue a warrant for your arrest. Walmart could be compelled by the PATRIOT act [slashdot.org] to turn over any information about you and possibly notify the authorities if you show up in any of their stores. They know who you are because six years ago you used a credit card to purchase your lucky hat with an RFID tag on it.
    • by Jim_Maryland (718224) on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:39PM (#9019848)
      The tags do not tell the store WHO you are.

      Actually at some point they can. Once you go to the checkout, you'll likely be identifiable via non-cash payment (debit/credit card, check, or a customer discount card). Putting together the clues from the items you have and the items you actually stopped to check out may be possible, depending on the item you initially pick up (if you check out items before one you actually purchase, they likely won't be able to detect these).

      They can't see you walk out

      Actually they can. The article about IBM discussed ID bracelets that could track people to make sure they didn't leave the property (for safety of course, but still a form of tracking).

      The RFID technology will present some privacy concerns that shoppers should at least be aware of. I'm not saying that the technology is necessarily bad, but as consumers, we should at least have an idea of what's going on.
      • They can tell the store an item is leaving, they cannot tell you who it is on.

        Now if your the only person in the store and you leave with the item you just bought they could do it. However in a busy store and especially with a popular sale item they are not going to be able to say Joe was the 3rd person out in the last 5 minutes with item x.

        As far as correlation between you and your purchase, if you don't pay with cash they already have that, RFID doesn't change the picture.

        • Actually they can tell the difference between individual RFID tagged items. See this link from Sun - Enhance Your Supply Chain [sun.com] for information about tracking an individual item.

          Excerpt

          For one thing, RFID tags have far greater capacity than bar-code labels for storing information. While the familiar universal product code (UPC) labels on typical retail packaging fit only 12 to 14 bits of information, current-generation RFID tags could accommodate up to 96 bits. Consequently, while bar-code labels are
      • by Atzanteol (99067) on Friday April 30, 2004 @01:33PM (#9020499) Homepage
        Way to overcomplicate the situation...

        While all this putting together of credit card info and gathering of RFID's, there's also a live *person* handling the transaction!

        If you *didn't* want people to know you just bought underwear at a Wal*Mart, you'll need to send a friggin servant or wear a decent disguise.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:44PM (#9019905)
      I am not sure the general public has a grasp of just how big Walmart is, and how they wield that power. In February of 2000, Wal-Mart opted to eliminate their meat cutting departments rather than engage in union negotiations. Wal-Mart is the focus of 25 pending lawsuits charging overtime violations. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Wal-Mart pays men 34 cents more an hour than women in identical positions. Nationwide, Walmart has 2,864 stores. In 2002, they had $244.5 billion in sales. That's more than 5 times the sales of Target Corporation and combined, exceeds Target, Sears, Kmart, J.C. Penney, Safeway, and Kroger! In the last half of the 1990s, Wal-Mart was responsible for almost 12% of the productivity gains seen in the US economy. 2.3% of the US gross national product belongs to Wal-Mart. In 2002, except for auto parts stores, 7.5 cents of every dollar spent in retail stores in the US was in Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart employs 1.3 million people. In almost half of the states in the US, they are the largest employer. Wal-Mart buys nearly 10% of chinese imported products. Figures taken from Fast Company [fastcompany.com] and The City Pages [citypages.com]
    • Besides, where was the concern when tags were placed inside of CDs and DVDs? Is this just another "attack Wal-Mart" parade? Wal-Mart is big, but they still are only 8% of the retail market... which makes them anything but a monopoly.

      First off, 8% of all retail is fucking huge. Many times bigger than any competitor. Remember that retail includes selling any kinds of goods, whatsoever.

      Secondly, they ARE a monopoly in many parts of the country for general merchandise, and are quickly taking over grocery s
      • Just found this: [targetunion.org]
        The Arkansas-based company posted $256 billion in revenue for the 52-week period that ended Jan. 31 -- more revenue than International Business Machines, Coca-Cola, Time Warner and Microsoft combined.

        You want to target a big, nasty corporation? There are none that come close to Wal-Mart, as far as consumer products go.
    • I also fail to see the privacy issue.

      You aren't alone, and that's a shame.

      To properly illustrate all the privacy concerns would take hundreds of pages, but let's gloss over the main one.

      We needn't speculate either, we can use a real world example -- Prada stores. Prada, in an RFID trial, put an RFID chip into their customer's "Prada Shopper Card." When a frequent buyer of Prada walked into their store, the scanner would pick up the RFID from the card, and a salesperson would immediately know who the

  • by james_in_denver (757233) <james_in_denver.yahoo@com> on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:29PM (#9019744)
    Seems like California is doing the right thing by limiting their use. It isn't anybody's business to know if I am wearing boxers, tighty whities, nothing at all, even even pink panties under my pants...
    • Personally when I want to tell people to keep their noses out of my stuff, I just tell them that it's none of their buissness just how big my collection of Dwarf Nun Animal Snuff Porn is.

      Before I started doing that people always said "well, what do you have to hide?", now they look at me wondering if I'm being sarcastic or dead serious. And they usually get my point as well.
  • by Prince Vegeta SSJ4 (718736) on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:30PM (#9019747)

    Customer walks into wallmart

    Automated Computer: Good morning shopper, I see the pack of ultra ribbed, extra small condoms in your pocket is about to expire, and you only have one left - you can find another on aisle 20.

    Be sure to check out our special on superlube 4000 while your there

    Wife: since when did you use a condom with me?

    • Automated Computer: Good morning shopper, I see the pack of ultra ribbed, extra small condoms in your pocket is still full and you bought them quite some time ago. Not getting any?

      See our special on blow up dolls on aisle 21.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I see absolutely no problems here. If you're worried about your privacy, remove/disable the rfid tags onec you've purchased the products.
    It's not as if there are any laws preventing you from tampering with products that you own ... oh, wait. The DMCA ... one step closer to 1984 ... well done Bu$h :(
  • My Rights?? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by USAPatriot (730422) on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:32PM (#9019772) Homepage
    Please explain to me how Wal-Mart tracking pallets thru its distribution channel affects "My Rights" or has any bearing on me as customer??

    I think michael and the rest of you paranoid bunch need to give up this anti-RFID crusade. If you don't like RFID, don't purchase it. If someone else does, then that's their business, quit your hysterical bitching.

    • "Please explain to me how Wal-Mart tracking pallets thru its distribution channel affects "My Rights" or has any bearing on me as customer??"

      It's not them tracking their merchendise through their DC's and stores that upset people - it's the fact that these transmitters are very small, very hard to remove, and will probably continue to broadcast long after you've purchased your items and left the store. Meaning, burglars looking for a house with lots of good stuff in it could drive by with a scanner to see
      • Re:My Rights?? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Kombat (93720) <kombat@kombat.org> on Friday April 30, 2004 @01:55PM (#9020722) Homepage
        these transmitters [...] will probably continue to broadcast long after you've purchased your items


        False. They don't "broadcast" anything. They're passive receivers. They are unpowered. They respond to radio stimulation. They no more "broadcast" a number than the money in my wallet is "broadcasting" serial numbers.


        burglars looking for a house with lots of good stuff in it could drive by with a scanner


        False. The scanners used to detect the passive tags can only do so from a short distance (on the order of a few inches, maybe a foot or two). It is extremely technically impractical to build a scanner powerful enough to scan and detect items several dozen yards away. What you're suggesting is as absurd as claiming that my garage door opener will potentially open up garage doors all over the city when I press the button while pulling into my driveway. Not to mention the problem of discerning quantum signals from a mess of more than 5 devices shouting "Here I am!" all at once. These detectors can't discriminate between more than a few tags simultaneously without getting confused.


        Also means Uncle Sam could do the same thing to see if you've been buying anything controversial.


        False. Uncle Sam, if he were seriously interested, wouldn't waste time driving by your house with one of these massively powerful, imaginary scanners that can read all the tags in your house (while not getting confused with the tags answering from your neighbors' houses). He'd simply use the USAPATRIOT act to subpoena your bank records and see what you've bought.


        Once upon a time it was a cherished American right that a man's home was his castle, and what he did behind closed doors was none of anybody's business, especially the government's.


        False. People have always sought to dictate what people can and can't do in the privacy of their own homes. Witness the anti-sodomy laws that are still on the books in some places.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:33PM (#9019779)
    Anytime you step into a Walmart, you're already trading away a piece of your soul for lower prices. You're buying cheap foreign goods, often made in sweatshops. You're supporting a store that is starving your town of local independent retailers. And a big chunk of your money leaves the local community. So I don't see how RFID tags add much to what already is a losing situation.

    That said, I personally go to Walmart once a year and buy regular commodity crap like toiletries, household supplies, etc. Plus they usually will change my car's oil for $10 less than the other guys. But I go in there knowing I've already checked my soul at the door. RFID is the least of my worries.

    • yeah I find it best to support the local Korean grocer when in NYC. Aside from the occasional outbreak of gunfire, those local places rock. And none of their products are cheap and foreign. Although I guess it is different to buy expensive foreign goods that may or may not be made in a sweatshop at some froofy local shop for 1000% markup.
    • I haven't stepped foot in a Wal-Mart in about 2½ years. The crowded stores and parking lots, and long waits in line just don't make saving a quarter on a box of cheerios worth the stress.
    • You have a point. But what is worse? - Albertson's, that requires me to pull out a stupid card each time I buy groceries so they can stick my name in a database with the purchases I made. Then they can sell it to anyone who shows up on their doorstep with a nickel.

      Or go to Walmart where they do not have those cards but RFIDs, that while can be tracked, your purchase is not (not yet anyway) linked to your name?
    • The only stores Walmart is forcing out of business in my area are Ames and K*Mart, and I don't why I should care about that.

      The small downtown stores were killed 15 years ago by the surburban strip malls. Nothing to do with Walmart.
    • by Kaa (21510) on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:56PM (#9020053) Homepage
      Anytime you step into a Walmart, you're already trading away a piece of your soul for lower prices. You're buying cheap foreign goods, often made in sweatshops. You're supporting a store that is starving your town of local independent retailers. And a big chunk of your money leaves the local community.

      LOL. You want to live inside a little closed community, never poking your nose out, convinced that every time you buy something made by foreign devils you are trading a piece of your soul for it -- be my guest.

      I am living in a global world. Most of the stuff I buy, both cheap and expensive, comes from different countries -- Japan, China, Germany, Mexico, etc. Periodically -- oh, horrors! -- I actually go on trips to foreign countries and leave a chunk on money there, paid for hotels, and food, and services, and what not.

      Local independent retailers? What's that? Ah, those horse-and-buggy guys who had, basically, no selection at all and strangely high prices? I am not sorry to see them go. For example, am quite happy to have a Home Depot in my town -- the local hardware store never had what I needed and charged around three bucks for a pair of nails...

      My local community is the world.

    • I personally go to Walmart once a year and buy regular commodity crap like toiletries, household supplies, etc.

      I go to Wal Mart once a year for my $2.97 gallon jar of pickles. [fastcompany.com]
  • by Hecubas (21451) on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:35PM (#9019812)
    Anyone here old enough to remember people freaking out about the UPC sybmol going on everything? This is basically UPC 2.0. It's all about better inventory tracking, and that is the key for retailers like Walmart. Heck, I think I have a Mad magazine from years ago that did a theme spoof on UPCs.
    • UPC's couldn't be read without an optical scanner; ie, you know when a UPC in your possession is being scanned. With RFID's, all you have to do is walk close enough to any scanner for it to pick up the ID.

      I want some way to burn out RFID's after I buy something. If Wal-Mart won't supply it, I'll have to buy one [businesswire.com].
  • Burn-out device (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kaa (21510) on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:36PM (#9019814) Homepage
    OK, I want a hand-held device, made out of Radio Shack parts, that will burn out RFIDs at close range (say, under 1 foot).

    Any EEs out there want to comment on the feasability, complexity, and possible cost of such a device?

    (I think a microwave oven works fine, but it's hardly portable...)
    • Re:Burn-out device (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BillLeeLee (629420)
      When I listened to a presentation about RFID, the presenters said to totally destroy an RFID tag takes a machine much larger than one you could take into a Walmart without looking suspicious.

      And I don't think wearing a moo moo would allow you to hide one of the devices either.
  • by deadmongrel (621467) <karthik@poobal.net> on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:37PM (#9019822) Homepage
    I really don't see any privacy issues with RFID tags put on stuff. The customers are not tagged with it. Hell the only privacy issue I see is using credit card in these places. The good thing I see about RFID is that they could streamline processes which in turn could reduce costs for the company which would be (at least some of it) would be passed on to the customer.
    The funny thing is all these people talk about privacy and stuff and I bet they wouldn't even encrypt their email.
    • The customers are not tagged with it.

      ...Until they leave Walmart with an RFID-tagged item. We need safeguards to ensure that RFID-tags are only enabled within the retail environment, and are "switched off" once the consimer has made their purchase.

      The funny thing is all these people talk about privacy and stuff and I bet they wouldn't even encrypt their email.

      <sarcasm>Love the generalisation. "These people". Very open-minded.</sarcasm>

  • by Crashless (714186) on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:37PM (#9019823)
    I personally don't see the problem with letting them track what I pickup an don't buy, or the path I take in the store.

    But what I DO have a problem with is if they connect that information to me personally, wether it be with a shopping ID or whatever. If they start being able to flash personal adds while I'm checking out like: "did you forget your condoms?" because I bought them last time, but didn't this time, I would have a field day in tahiti with my lawyers.

    I think it's probable that even without legislation stores will eventually limit themselves, but I say: why let it get to that point? Prevent individual logging now, and limit it to aggregate like TiVo does.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:38PM (#9019838)
    that these tags are going on the SHIPPING CONTAINERS! Not actual shelf-product. For example, take a shipment of blank video casettes. They arrive at the store in a box of 12. The box holding the 12 items is what has the RFID, not the tapes themselves. The tapes themselves still use the UPC tags that get scanned by a laser at the cash register.

    Result? Wal-Mart gets improvement in their shipping systems, not the Point-of-sale systems. Interestingly, it provides no improvement in loss control, something some wal-marts have serious problem with.
  • Idiot (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Alsee (515537)
    that's what people are afraid of, location-based services, but that's not RFID.

    NO, that is NOT what we are concered about. We're not all fscking idiots.

    I don't want into a store or into work and have a scanner read off 32 unique product codes identifying every item on my body.

    Heay Bob! What are you doing with that Victoria's Secret black lace bra? Isn't that the one Sally wore in this morning?

    -
  • by the MaD HuNGaRIaN (311517) on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:41PM (#9019877)
    When I was lining the inside of my SUV with tin foil, my wife said "isn't the hat enough?"

    I knew it was coming to this. Now I'm ready!

    Once I leave the store, nobody will ever know what I bought (except Visa, my bank, and their business partners, and Walmart and their business partners, and whoever is behind me at the checkout, and the girl who checks me out, and the kid who bags it, and the old guy who checks my receipt, and the guys operating the 10,000 security cameras at the store).
  • Tempest in a teapot! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by YankeeInExile (577704) * on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:42PM (#9019881) Homepage Journal

    Well here we have another RFID Tempest-in-a-teapot.

    One of the princiapl tenets of capitalism, is that entities that supply better value will succeed, to the expense of entities that do not.

    If Wal*Mart has decided that using this technology will allow them to continue to provide the products that people wish to purchase (and based on their position in retail marketers, they must be doing something right) by cutting down on overhead, then so be it.

    I have a fundamental failure to understand why this issue (RFID in general, and Wal*Mart's decision to use it in particular) brings out the tin-foil-hat contingent.

    I can see some organizations being opposed to it from a self-preservation standpoint. Consider the following hypothetical example:

    Because RFID allows inventory to be counted more rapidly, and more accurately, Wal*Mart can eliminate 30% of night-shift merchandise counters - the UCW would oppose the measure.

    Counterargument: Because RFID allows inventory to be counted more rapidly, and more accurately, Wal*Mart decides to do shelf-count nightly instead of weekly, this generating a net increase in associate hours.

    (The astute reader will note that I am ignoring alleged impropriety in Wal*Mart's relationship with their associates for the simple reason that it is orthogonal to this issue)

  • by Tikaro (726048) *
    As a web developer and dilettante programmer, I'm interested in how RFID will extend the reach of our apps beyond the keyboard/mouse and out into the real world (well, several inches out into the real world, anyhow, given the limitations of RFID receivers.)

    I've been playing with the RFID kid from Phidgets [phidgets.com]; it's about 100 bucks to get started with a reader and some chips of your own. Unfortunately for a newbie like me, it's not as easy as working with a barcode reader -- you've got to access the hardware
  • From the ZDNet article:

    Shearer characterised Katherine Albrecht, RFID privacy activist and founder and director of lobby group Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering, as being "confused" about the technologies that she is campaigning against. RFID tags used in retail stores, Shearer said, "[could] only measure a short distance".

    Of course, 802.11 technology has an approximate range limit of 150ft. Or does it? [newswireless.net]

    I understand that there's a fundimental difference between a wifi node a

  • Another reason... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Coplan (13643) on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:45PM (#9019911) Homepage Journal
    As if I didn't have enough reasons to avoid Wal-mart, here's another. Granted, I must clarify that i'm not worried about what Wal-mart might do with the RFID tags. Especially since I can throw the packaging away. However, what side-effects will come of this? What will the geek community make of this? When will we see the RFID HOWTO?

    I don't understand this store. They censor CDs that have explicit lyrics without any on-the-package indication. Yet, they sell guns? Seems like two sets of values to me.

    I hate Walmart

    • About Packaging (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Prince Vegeta SSJ4 (718736) on Friday April 30, 2004 @01:07PM (#9020183)
      Burning a little karma here, but what the hey.

      People who are not weary of RFID always point to things such as

      • it decreases the cost
      • I can throw the packaging away
      • it's in the package / tag - not on the customer

      Sure that's valid right now, but how about the cost decreasing benefits of NO packaging. Gilette Razor blades for instance, packaged in a big box so they are harder to steal.

      They can sell the idea of embedded chips, by saying it decreases packaging costs (which it will). Then, you can't throw it away.

      Further, if anyone has noticed, ANY media which can be used as advertising IS used as advertising. From buses, The Internet, to the damn program Guide on your Cable Box, even the products in Movies. How long before RFID is used for that as well, once they have sold the idea of embedded chips.

  • Irony (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WwWonka (545303) on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:48PM (#9019954)
    So Walmart is using RFID tags to track their merchandice.

    Maybe they should use greencards to track their illegally hired under paid immigrant employees.
  • by VernonNemitz (581327) on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:49PM (#9019967) Journal
    All techies presumably know about those little security tags that are attached to so many things these days. I'm sure they do a good job preventing theft, else the stores would tell their distributors how worthless they were, and that would be the beginning of the end of them.

    Now note that the cashier has to put the tag close to a magnetic plate to disable it so you can leave the store without setting off the alarm system (doesn't always succeed, but does usually).

    So imaging a bagfull of stuff you just bought, all decked out with RFID tags. The same alarm-detector at the door that seeks undisabled anti-theft tags can be modified to emit (AFTER passing the anti-theft test) a signal to permanently disable the bag-full of RFID tags. Why not? All the tag-makers have to do is ALLOW them to be disable-able!
    • That same signal has the potential to harm electronic media. Make sure you're not carrying any credit cards when you walk through that door or you REALLY won't have to worry about somebody tracking your purchases.
  • by Mycroft_514 (701676) on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:51PM (#9019982) Journal
    First it is the technology to convert your checks into a electronic draft of your checking account, now this.

    And the problem with the electronic draft of your checking account is the lack of controls that prevent them from drafting your account AS MANY TIMES AS THEY WANT TO!

    Don't think it can happen? Well I got news for you. Not only can that be done, but they can also modify the amounts and draft it again.

    It happened to me, which is why I don't shop at Wal-mart any more, or anywhere else that uses said technology. I got lucky, in that my bank ended up covering the difference because the base mistake that caused the merchant in question to modify the draft was the bank's mistake (a supposedly invisible to the users conversion of their checking system).

    Beware, Wal-mart doesn't care about the customer and never has.
  • About time. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kabocox (199019) on Friday April 30, 2004 @12:56PM (#9020047)
    I wish that they'd just do it. Wal-mart's usual method is to put it in a few stores 5-10 in the home state. If it works, spread it out. If it doesn't, see if they could get it to work or look at a different vendor. As Wal-Mart could force most manufacturers to put RFID tags on their products, I'm surprised that they haven't done more testing. They may have. Bar codes save money. RFID Tags could save that much more money than Bar codes. As far as software, all they have to do is modify it to read in the UPC and the RFID tag and it is done. Wal-mart already has very advanced inventory tracking software. Wal-mart's problem is that they need faster/cheaper/easier ways of counting items and verifing the number of item off the truck was the same amount as that put on the truck. The number of products received was the same as the the number of products paid for. The number of items that are on the shelves is what the software says it is. Software isn't magic. It takes stock clerks with barcode wands to do an audit to verify if the store's inventory is "correct." Remember they are trying to reduce shrinkage. Elimating shinkage due to employee theft and employees not following storage procedures would be a good thing. Reducing Shrinkage due to "customers" not paying for "purchased" items would be a good thing as well.

    You may be able to say Copyright infrigement does not equal theft. But can you say walking out of Wal-mart with items isn't theft? How could it invade your privacy by them tracking their inventory? Its not your goods unles you purchase them. You can demand that there be no RFID tags on products that you buy. You could go some where else. Here in AR we know that it is possible to compete and stay in business against Wal-mart. I find it hilarious that those in other states are afraid to compete against a little chain store from AR.
  • by sonofuse (758855)
    More and more it looks like the fog on the divide is lifting. For some of us the Corps have taken our jobs and our dignity, control our government and "our" (Ha!) representatives, and are dictating the necessity of a police state. This is the direction things are going, so what now? I am an Infidel but the idea of Corporation terrorist doesn't seem to sound to bad at the moment. (I'll regret saying that! Now I am surely on THE list.)

    A magnetic pulse generator does strange things to RF devices. Anyone know
  • I want RFID. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LionKimbro (200000) on Friday April 30, 2004 @01:04PM (#9020139) Homepage
    Personally, I want my RFID tags.

    I want to be able to go up to any item in my house, and say, "What is this?"

    I then want to see the specs appear on my computer screen.

    I want to be able to go up to any item in my house, and say, "I'm happy to lend this." I'd like my neighbors, if they are looking for a vacuum cleaner, to be able to see that there is a willing lender nearby.

    I don't care if my neighbors scan my apartment, and find out that I have underwear, and a toaster, and books.

    "Naughty" stuff is not going to leave a store with RFID. If they're willing to ship in a brown paper bag, then they're smart enough to ship with the RFID tag taken off.
  • by steve buttgereit (644315) on Friday April 30, 2004 @01:06PM (#9020167) Homepage
    I read the article and what I can decern, without having read the bill, is that this oversteps... as our (yes I live in California) communist legislature is wont to do.

    I can agree to limits about monitoring outside of the store; that's a clear cut invasion of privacy. However, as far as monitoring what gets picked up off a shelf and returned, etc. That's just silly to try and block. Store personnel could (though not as efficiently) monitor customers behavior visually and get the same knowledge.

    It seems to me that the general public, rather than trying to slather on a bunch regulation onto business, has a responsibility to shop in those places that have products, services, and policies that they desire. If you think WalMart is going to somehow compromise your privacy, don't shop there. There are thousands of mom and pop shops that can't afford the technology anyway that sell the same products and are dying for your business. If the extra price is worth the privacy you'll not shop WalMart.

    If you consumer/privacy advocates want to engage in a moral approach to this problem: encourage a boycott and encourage people to take a little damn responsibility for goes on in their own lives.

  • by MarkedMan (523274) on Friday April 30, 2004 @01:24PM (#9020392)
    I work in this industry and follow what Wal-Mart is doing very closely. Despite what you might gather from all the posts, Wal-Mart has backed away from primary RFID tags. In english, this means that they are not using RFID tags on the things you purchase. Instead, they are going with secondary and tertiary RFID tagging. In english, they will tag cases of products and pallets of cases. I can't see any privacy concerns in this whatsoever.

    It differs from primary RFID in some fundamentally practical ways too. Everyone in the supply chain has a vested interested in making secondary coding work. If (and this is a far from certain "if" at this point) RFID can reliable track a carton out of a manufacturer, into a truck, into a Wal-Mart distribution center, into another truck, and finally into a local Wal-Mart, it will simplify life. (Before anyone jumps on the fact that the RFID tag makes it into the local Wal-Mart - the tag is attached to the corrugated shipping carton which is discarded and recycled when all the product is removed and placed on the shelves).

    In contrast, there are a number of people who have a vested interest in not having primary RFID work. Aside from people concerned about privacy, there is an incentive to kill tags if they are used in an automatic checkout system. I foresee jammers, zappers, all kinds of shady, quasi-legal devices.
  • by King_TJ (85913) on Friday April 30, 2004 @03:40PM (#9021859) Journal
    To be honest, the RFID tag issue seems relatively minor compared to the privacy issues we're already forced to endure when shopping at some of the larger retailers.

    I was just watching a news piece on last night's local TV broadcast about how sophisticated the cameras have become at Home Depot stores. Apparently, their entire store is covered by cameras on the ceiling, and photos are taken and digitally stored of each person as they make purchases at the checkout counter.

    They were bragging about how a murder case was solved in this manner, because a label and UPC code were found on the handle of a rake used in the crime. This traced it back to Home Depot, where they were able to input the UPC code and retreive perfectly clear photos of the person buying the rake. Home Depot claims they store all of this information for at least 1 year.

    Perhaps just as interesting was that despite Home Depot's assertion that "This information is only used internally, and not provided to govt. agencies or any private outside individuals." - the police were able to get those photos of the guy buying the rake just by walking in a store and asking for them.

    Target stores are also known for using sophisticated surveillance systems (and similar to Home Depot's setup, they're obviously able to retreive photos of who bought what in the past - as witnessed by the recent case where the college student faked being kidnapped, and was caught when they showed camera footage of her purchasing duct tape and rope, etc. at the local Target store just before it happened).

    A private investigator interviewed on the news was quoted as having obtained this type of evidence from a retail store in New York, after he was hired to try to spy on a suspected cheating husband. (He purchased lingerie on his credit card, and then tried to claim his card was stolen - so the P.I. obtained photographic evidence that it was indeed him buying the items.) They asked the P.I. if he had permission to obtain this information from the retail store. He said no, but he had "confidential sources" that got it for him anyway.

    That's the problem with all of this stuff. Once this type of data is indexed and stored somewhere, it has the potential to fall into the wrong hands - and eventually *will* do so. It's only a matter of time.
  • Well, DUH (Score:3, Insightful)

    by acidrain69 (632468) on Friday April 30, 2004 @04:02PM (#9022089) Journal
    As if there weren't enough reasons to NOT shop at Walmart, here is another one.

    From driving down wages and destroying small businesses to employing illegal aliens to driving near-slave labor in other countries, Walmart is just a HUGE can of worms. Just another notch in the belt IMO.

    And those are just the political reasons. Dirty stores. Merchandise and boxes all over the isles.

    Make it known that you don't want to shop there, for RFID and the other noted reasons. I'm sure walmart will say it will immensly cut down on theft, but honestly, with the amount of businessnes they do, they probably don't notice it anyway. They will say that this will drive down prices for the consumer, but the consumer hardly benefits from this at all. Walmart will benefit by improved inventory control/tracking/ potentially seeing customer buying habits.

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