RFID wants to TRACK my TODGER, so I am going to CUT it OFF

Tech tagging horror 'n' itchy collars

Damn collar labels! This means war

My wife used to titter whenever I attacked a new item of clothing with scissors to get rid of all the stupid labels. It is, one has to admit, odd that such a little thing can be so annoying if left uncircumcised.

Recently, she has begun to change her tune and has observed to me that the labels on newer clothing are getting rougher and scratchier with sharper edges. There seem to be more of them, too, sewn in to various hems hidden all over the item, as if deliberately arranged so that you miss at least one.

On one casual shirt, I found no less than seven labels sewn into the back of the collar alone, occupying a total thickness of 7mm by themselves. What were they for? I have no idea because they were covered in text written in multiple languages, none of them familiar to me.

The washing instructions symbols were printed on a separate label on a side hem, specifically designed to chafe at the waistline.

God knows what material these labels are manufactured from, either. Tungsten carbide? Kevlar? If they made them a little bigger, I’m pretty sure I could use them to slice vegetables.

Top military installations: don’t waste public money on erecting expensive razor wire fences! Just string together a load of t-shirt collar labels! That’ll slice up the peaceniks nicely for you AND provide washing instructions for removing the blood stains afterwards.

Looking into the make-up of clothing labels, though, I discover that at least one label on every item in a fashion store chain contains an RFID chip. And I don’t mean the fist-sized plastic security tag. I mean one of the little cardboard labels strung on by that viciously sharp-ended plastic thread.

Yes, I know I’m behind the times here. RFID labelling has largely supplanted barcoding as a more reliable means of achieving warehouse-to-retail management of such items. Tracking the movement of stock then becomes largely hands-free rather than relying upon the laborious bleeping of barcodes with a reader.

Another thing I learned this week, from Austrian Big Data software company Detego, is that the data captured by fashion brands via these RFID tags can be tracked all the way from the shipping container to the customer’s hands – and potentially further.

It’s now possible, explains Detego’s CEO Uwe Hennig, to use RFID tags to track stock between the backroom and front-of-store not just once a month or once a week or even overnight, but in real time throughout the shopping day, with the store manager checking what’s going on from the comfort of his own iPad.

Nor does the manager have to wait until a purchase has been made to find out what’s happening to his or her stock. Larger retail outlets can use RFID to track what items customers have picked up or have put in their baskets as they browse between floors and wander from one part of the store to another.

There are potential parallels here to the way that shopping centres offer (crappy, virtually unusable) “free” Wi-Fi whose true purpose is to find out which shops you go into and how long you spend in them.

Then, in line with the 100,000-word T&Cs document that you, er, read thoroughly before ticking Agree, you are bombarded throughout the rest of the week with “targeted” spam.

In theory – or it could already be in practice, who knows – an appropriately equipped shopping centre could continue tracking my RFID-tagged purchases after I have paid and left the store and begun strolling off towards the food court.

The shopping centre’s data centre is now spying not just on the movement of my smartphone’s MAC code but also what I have picked up and put down, the newly purchased contents of my shopping bags, and precisely what kind of frilly panties I will be wearing later.

I bought it for a birthday present, constable, honest.

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