Feeds

Wal-Mart turns customers into RFID lab rats

P&G's watchful eyes

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

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

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

More from The Register

next story
This time it's 'Personal': new Office 365 sub covers just two devices
Redmond also brings Office into Google's back yard
Kingston DataTraveler MicroDuo: Turn your phone into a 72GB beast
USB-usiness in the front, micro-USB party in the back
Dropbox defends fantastically badly timed Condoleezza Rice appointment
'Nothing is going to change with Dr. Rice's appointment,' file sharer promises
BOFH: Oh DO tell us what you think. *CLICK*
$%%&amp Oh dear, we've been cut *CLICK* Well hello *CLICK* You're breaking up...
AMD's 'Seattle' 64-bit ARM server chips now sampling, set to launch in late 2014
But they won't appear in SeaMicro Fabric Compute Systems anytime soon
Amazon reveals its Google-killing 'R3' server instances
A mega-memory instance that never forgets
Cisco reps flog Whiptail's Invicta arrays against EMC and Pure
Storage reseller report reveals who's selling what
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.