retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Chicago Sun Times reports that a Tulsa Wal-Mart conducted a study about radio frequency identification (RFID) tags earlier this year - a study it hoped would not be made public.

"Shelves in a Wal-Mart in Broken Arrow, Okla., were equipped with hidden electronics to track the Max Factor Lipfinity lipstick containers stacked on them," the Sun-Times reports. "The shelves and Webcam images were viewed 750 miles away by Procter & Gamble researchers in Cincinnati who could tell when lipsticks were removed from the shelves and could even watch consumers in action."

The Sun-Times said that it learned of the trial "from a disgruntled Procter & Gamble executive," and that it was kept secret because of concerns that privacy advocates would use it to raise alarms about the implications of RFID.

Kevin Ashton, executive director of the Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the paper, "I think that the idea that someone's privacy is at stake because there are a few RFID tags in a few lipsticks in one store is silly."
KC's View:
We're honestly not sure if privacy advocates have something to be worried about, but we are pretty sure that stories like this one won't make things any easier.

Nor will lines like, RFID chips could make your daily life easier, but they also could let anyone with a scanning device know what kind of underwear you have on and how much money is in your wallet."

Or paragraphs like, Is that a home pregnancy test in your briefcase? Is that a bottle of Viagra in your backpack? You wear Fruit of the Loom boxer shorts? Do you really have $500 in your wallet?

Those are sentences that were used in the Sun-Times analysis. And if retailers and manufacturers don't take these issues seriously - and that means being up front about tests s opposed to secretive - then it isn’t going to matter if this technology makes sense. Consumers are going to resent it.