RFID and a Broken Arrow Wal-Mart

Monday, November 17th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

There are privacy concerns regarding developing technology. A store, right here in Green Country, took part in a quiet study to gauge buying habits of customers.

And as News on 6 anchor Craig Day reports, that study has privacy advocates outraged. According to the Chicago Sun Times, a Wal-Mart in Broken Arrow, along with Proctor and Gamble, tested emerging technology called Radio Frequency Identification.

Extremely small computer chips, similar to bar codes, were placed inside Max Factor lipstick. The Sun Times reports the data from the radio signals and a web cam of store shelves were analyzed by Proctor and Gamble researchers. The study is a surprise to shoppers.

Linda Moskal, Wal-Mart shopper: "Seems kind of like an invasion of privacy I would rather they be upfront and disclose to the consumer that they're doing market research I don't think anyone would mind. It's kinda fishy if they're going to do it and not inform us and I don't like that."

Privacy advocates don't like it either. They worry the devices could be used to gain too much information. Katherine Albrecht, Privacy Rights supporter: "Even at this early stage, even without a lot of consumer knowledge, people who do know about it are opposed."

Marsha Huie, TU Law Professor: "I'm not at all surprised because the technology is such that the intrusions on personal privacy are readily available if businesses want to avail themselves." Marsha Huie is a TU law professor who has studied privacy issues. She says there are no adequate laws restricting intrusions by businesses. "That's one problem in the United States is that we let business dictate our policy of morality and privacy and it has frightening implications."

Right now the RFID chips are mostly shown in trade shows, but more businesses are expected to use the technology to tell when inventories are low. “This will read from ten to 30 feet away." The Radio Frequency ID could also prevent shoplifting and counterfeiting of products.

Supporters of RFID are confident its benefits outweigh the concerns. Tom Coyle, product demonstrator: "There is no problem that we can't solve that I think balances the privacy concerns, the safety concerns of the using public, with the ability to leverage the technology to do better things for all of us."

Experts say they expect as the price starts to fall on the Radio Frequency Identification technology, it will be used more often. Estimates are that they'll be very common in the US between the years 2007 and 2010.