In an effort to better track inventory of its clothing items, Walmart is planning to start placing removable RFID tags on individual pairs of jeans and underwear. But some privacy advocates worry that the tags may allow unscrupulous types to learn more about your purchasing habits than you’d generally care to share.
The goal for Walmart is better inventory control. Having RFID tags placed on items, especially those available in different sizes, would allow employees to quickly scan each shelf with a hand-held device. They would then immediately know if the proper mix and quantity of each item is on the shelf.
Walmart says all RFID chips will be placed on easily removable tags that hang off the clothing like price tags.
But privacy advocates worry that even after the tags are removed, it would be incredibly easy for someone with the handheld scanner to roll down your street and scan your garbage to get an idea of what you’re buying.
They also don’t like the idea of retailers — not necessarily just Walmart — using RFID scanners to read personal info stored on the new generation of credit cards and driver’s licenses that contain RFID chips.
Says an RFID-hater:
There are two things you really don’t want to tag, clothing and identity documents, and ironically that’s where we are seeing adoption… The inventory guys may be in the dark about this, but there are a lot of corporate marketers who are interested in tracking people as they walk sales floors.
Counters a brainiac from MIT:
Concerns about privacy are valid, but in this instance, the benefits far outweigh any concerns… The tags don’t have any personal information. They are essentially barcodes with serial numbers attached. And you can easily remove them.
Perhaps Walmart should do what’s being done in Europe — or what retailers have done for years with those anti-theft devices — and remove the RFID tags at the point of checkout.
Speaking of anti-theft devices, Wal-Mart says the RFID chips should cut down on employee theft because it will be easier to see if something’s gone missing from the back room.