Monday, November 10, 2003

Scandal: Wal-Mart, P&G; involved in secret RFID testing  

Excerpts from November 10, 2003 news release
by CASPIAN - Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering:

American consumers used as guinea pigs for controversial technology

Wal-Mart and Procter & Gamble conducted a secret RFID trial involving Oklahoma consumers earlier this year, the Chicago Sun Times revealed on Sunday. Customers who purchased P&G;'s Lipfinity brand lipstick at the Broken Arrow Wal-Mart store between late March and mid-July unknowingly left the store with live RFID tracking devices embedded in the packaging. Wal-Mart had previously denied any consumer-level RFID testing in the United States.

The Chicago Sun Times also reported that a live video camera trained on the shelf allowed Procter & Gamble employees, sometimes hundreds of miles away, to observe the Lipfinity display and consumers interacting with it.

"This trial is a perfect illustration of how easy it is to set up a secret RFID infrastructure and use it to spy on people," says Katherine Albrecht, Founder and Director of Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering (CASPIAN). "The RFID industry has been paying lip service to privacy concerns, calling for notice, choice and control. But companies like P&G;, Wal-Mart and Gillette have already violated all three tenets when they thought nobody was looking. This is exactly why we oppose item-level RFID tagging and have called for mandatory labeling legislation."

Disclosure of the Broken Arrow trial is only the latest scandal to hit the privacy plagued RFID industry. Early this year, CASPIAN called for a worldwide boycott of Italian clothing manufacturer Benetton when the company announced plans to equip women's undergarments with live RFID tracking tags (see Boycott Benetton). This summer, CASPIAN uncovered an RFID-enabled Gillette "smart shelf" in a Brockton, Massachusetts Wal-Mart and helped disclose Gillette's scheme to secretly photograph consumers picking up Mach3 razor blades in UK Tesco stores (see Boycott Gillette). The group also revealed confidential industry plans to "pacify" consumers and "neutralize opposition" in the hope that consumers will be "apathetic" and "resign themselves to the inevitability" of RFID product tagging (see: CASPIAN).

CASPIAN encourages consumers to contact Wal-Mart, P&G; and the UCC to voice their opinion about the use of RFID spy chips in consumer products. Contact information for these companies is provided on the group's RFID website.

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