Feeds

Wal-Mart turns customers into RFID lab rats

P&G's watchful eyes

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Have you ever wondered what it's like to buy lipstick while in a petri dish?

Consumers in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma know this experience all too well. They were part of a real-world RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) experiment conducted earlier this year by Wal-Mart and Proctor & Gamble. The two U.S. giants placed hidden RFID tags inside of Max Factor Lipfinity lipstick with little mention of the affair to consumers, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

A disgruntled P&G employee informed the paper of the study, which is one of the first of its kind in the U.S.

Over a four month period, P&G researchers viewed the Wal-Mart shelves from some 750 miles away in Cincinnati. They used Webcams mounted near the shelves to watch consumers buy the lipstick and then used RFID scanners to track the inventory.

Wal-Mart has been upfront about its plans to roll out a massive RFID inventory tracking system. Although the issue as to whether or not the technology should only be used for back-end purposes as opposed to monitoring consumer goods is quite dicey. Wal-Mart confirmed that it had indeed been keeping an eye on consumers in this case, after first denying the test.

A P&G spokeswoman was more forthcoming.

"She said there was a sign at the Lipfinity display that 'alerted customers that closed-circuit televisions and electronic merchandise security systems are in place in the store,'" the Sun-Times reports.

She added that the system was only used to track lipstick leaving the shelves. Once taken by a consumer, the product was out of range.

Some pundits laugh off the potential Big Brother effect of RFID tags, but many technophiles fear the little tags will be used for a wide range of nefarious purposes.

"On the surface, the Broken Arrow trial may seem harmless. But the truth is that the businesses involved pushed forward with this technology in secret, knowing full well that consumers are overwhelmingly opposed to it. This is why we have called for mandatory labeling of products containing RFID chips," Katherine Albrecht, founder of CASPIAN, a privacy rights group, told the paper.

To date, Wal-Mart and the U.S. Department of Defense have been among the most vocal backers of the technology. Some say their plans could cost suppliers millions.

Related Story

Sun-Times piece

Intelligent flash storage arrays

More from The Register

next story
NSA SOURCE CODE LEAK: Information slurp tools to appear online
Now you can run your own intelligence agency
Azure TITSUP caused by INFINITE LOOP
Fat fingered geo-block kept Aussies in the dark
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Yahoo! blames! MONSTER! email! OUTAGE! on! CUT! CABLE! bungle!
Weekend woe for BT as telco struggles to restore service
Cloud unicorns are extinct so DiData cloud mess was YOUR fault
Applications need to be built to handle TITSUP incidents
BOFH: WHERE did this 'fax-enabled' printer UPGRADE come from?
Don't worry about that cable, it's part of the config
Stop the IoT revolution! We need to figure out packet sizes first
Researchers test 802.15.4 and find we know nuh-think! about large scale sensor network ops
SanDisk vows: We'll have a 16TB SSD WHOPPER by 2016
Flash WORM has a serious use for archived photos and videos
Astro-boffins start opening universe simulation data
Got a supercomputer? Want to simulate a universe? Here you go
prev story

Whitepapers

Go beyond APM with real-time IT operations analytics
How IT operations teams can harness the wealth of wire data already flowing through their environment for real-time operational intelligence.
Why CIOs should rethink endpoint data protection in the age of mobility
Assessing trends in data protection, specifically with respect to mobile devices, BYOD, and remote employees.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Protecting against web application threats using SSL
SSL encryption can protect server‐to‐server communications, client devices, cloud resources, and other endpoints in order to help prevent the risk of data loss and losing customer trust.