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Privacy Technology

Walmart to Push RFID 497

bravehamster writes "According to this article over at MSNBC, Walmart is going to push its suppliers to start using RFID to track inventory by 2005. The article goes on to mention how it was Walmart who helped jumpstart widespread adoption of barcodes. The report also points out some of the barriers in the way of RFID acceptance, but never once mentions consumer privacy concerns. Guess that kind of stuff just isn't important anymore."
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Walmart to Push RFID

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  • by double_plus_ungod ( 678733 ) on Friday June 06, 2003 @11:37PM (#6137301) Journal
    most everyone discussing these devices are concerned about the privacy issues--that they need to be fully deactivated after the purchase. big brother inside?
    • by Ryan Amos ( 16972 ) on Friday June 06, 2003 @11:44PM (#6137321)
      I don't see why this should be so difficult. I mean, they do it today with a big magnet for shoplifting purposes, why can't you make an RFID tag that deactivates when placed over a big magnetic field? This way there's no need to worry about privacy and Walmart gets a way to save money by using technology that already exists in all their stores anyway.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      "most everyone discussing these devices are concerned about the privacy issues--that they need to be fully deactivated after the purchase. big brother inside?"

      Is that anything like Intel Inside?

    • by dnoyeb ( 547705 ) on Saturday June 07, 2003 @12:07AM (#6137398) Homepage Journal
      Why? These are IDs. I do not see what information they contain that you would be concerned about. they are not recording devices. I do not see any additional privacy concerns beyond what we have with store "savings/check cashing" cards and barcodes already.

      I don't recall anyone with a cadilliac or other high end luxury car, or other passive anti theft car with the RFID tag in the key, concerned about privacy.

      I don't recall any dolphins or sharks complaining about the RFID tag on their fins.

      I'll complain when they try and tag my children at birth...
      • by UpLateDrinkingCoffee ( 605179 ) on Saturday June 07, 2003 @12:21AM (#6137457)
        I agree, in this case the privacy concerns are probably unfounded. The debate is healthy though, because by the time they try to tag your children at birth, it may be too late to stop it.
      • by Omestes ( 471991 ) <(omestes) (at) (gmail.com)> on Saturday June 07, 2003 @01:15AM (#6137611) Homepage Journal
        Privacy concern: If their not deactivated, your basically wearing a consumer profile where ever you go. Lets say these things catch on everywhere, and become a standard like UPC codes, you walk into Target, or Walmart, or Circle Jerk, door sensor notices that you respond to a ping. Customer #204013 is wearing a Lands End sweater, a pair of JNCOs, a Cubs hat, Fruit of the Loom undies, a Swatch, Nikes, and a Victorias Secret brassier, customer #204013 buys a Jolk and a pack of Camels, and some pr0n. *POOF* A new database entry is born.

        Now imagine that each one of these RFIDs has a unique number, and somewhere along the line you become attached to one of these tags, now all of your purchasing history is associated with YOU, and not an aggregate. And the wonderful thing is, YOU HAVE NO CHOICE. To most people this is no problem, to me, it is. I try my damndest to stay out of all forms of database, with mixed results, and with these tags, I CAN'T. My purchasing history will follow me.
        • Do you honestly buy EVERTHING an ad tells you to? they are never forcing you to buy things. When you run out of money STOP! Do what I do; allot say 15% of your paycheque for "mad money" and when it's gone; no more frills (dvds, video games, new speakers, ect) I don't care if a company knows I shop at best buy for almost 40% of the stuff I buy. Or that I like Metallica and Terminator movies. I like the idea of targeted ads, no more tampon commericals durring junkyard wars! Seriously, think about this; you bu
    • by marvin826 ( 637964 ) on Saturday June 07, 2003 @12:34AM (#6137509)
      Hey, I'm just wondering how long it will take someone to walk through a mall during a big holiday like christmas and scan people's cars for loot. I'm not worried about people tracking me, but nothing like putting a transmitter in a car or even a house (what is the range on these things anyway??) that says "I'm an Xbox in here -- come get me!!" I'm not paranoid, but it was just a thought...of course, Faraday might help the car situation -- unless it is a plastic car:)
  • Maybe (Score:2, Funny)

    by bazabba ( 669692 )
    ...they'll stop asking for my zip code!!
    • since when does wal-mart ask for your zip code?

      at Conn's however . . . man, i just went in with a free gift card and bought a few packs of regular AA batteries and the cashier took about 5 min to ring it up. had to give a phone number . . . got some receipt that looked like a certificate licensing you to practice hairdressing . . . i just wanted the batteries.

  • ... a bigger microwave.

    Surely some of the hardware types around here can come up with the simplest and/or cheapest possible way to pinpoint and extract these things.

    (Then collect a couple buckets full and mail 'em back to Walmart corporate HQ. ;)
  • 2 questions... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by heretic108 ( 454817 ) on Friday June 06, 2003 @11:45PM (#6137324)
    Two questions regarding RFIDs:
    1. Once you take a product home, what's the cheapest and most convenient way of detecting an RFID tag? Is there any consumer-level equipment available to help with this without complication?
    2. Once a consumer discovers an RFID tag, is there an easy and convenient way for this tag be destroyed without damaging the product in any way?

    • Remind me to bring these devices into walmart and kill entire racks of products.

      "Price check at register 4....5.....7....n"
    • Re:2 questions... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by costas ( 38724 ) on Saturday June 07, 2003 @12:31AM (#6137498) Homepage
      You're assuming that it's to the interest of the retailer to leave the RFID active after you leave the store. That's just not the case. Let me clear up some RFID myths (and I am a retail systems consultant, BTW, this is my bread-and-butter):
      1. RFIDs allow stores to track instances of products; i.e. a specific can of Coke (serial # so-and-so, part of case such-and-such that was shipped by Joe Q. Supplier) instead of the current UPC "class identifier", i.e. "this is just a can of Coke". Now, people read this and they just jump ahead and assume that a retailer, however big, is ready to pay millions and millions of dollars for infrastructure in their warehouses, distribution centers and ultimately stores, to track trillions of product instances. Wake-up call: no they're not, and no they will never be. At most they might track some informative 'class-attributes' to borrow an OOP term: things like supplier or lot number. The whole RFID-allows-instance-tracking is only useful for items whose management cost is much higher than its physical cost: think auto or airplane parts, drugs, etc; not Gap shirts. This will not go away for decades, even allowing for Moore's law to keep going and for lower associated IT costs following that same trend.

      2. One added side-benefit of RFIDs is controling shrinkage, i.e. shoplifting. For that to actually work, and assuming instance-tracking is out of the question (see above) paid-off items have to be de-activated by the store itself upon checkout. Your questions are thus moot.

      3. Besides shrinkage, lemme tell you a little secret: retailers are very, very, very competitive. Suppose they don't de-activate paid-off RFIDs and let the chips keep on responding to query signals. You know what will happen within a week of that being rolled out by someone like Wal-Mart? Target will set up a truck in a Wal-Mart parking lot and start measuring their sales. Do you think Wal-Mart will let that happen? And AFAIK there's no way to stop that from happening unless RFIDs come with built-in Public/Private Key infrastructure, which will only increase their managerial costs (a lot; just think of all the suppliers Wal-Mart and Target share!) re-inforcing my first point.

      Now, instead of paranoid worries, I hope people start focusing on the promise of RFIDs: instant checkouts, instant inventories, instant customer feedback to the retailer (meaning better product choices by the stores) and much better inventory management (meaning lower prices!). Never mind trackable warranties, potential theft prevention/insurance, etc, etc, etc...
      • Re:2 questions... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 07, 2003 @01:23AM (#6137638)
        Now, instead of paranoid worries, I hope people start focusing on the promise of RFIDs: instant checkouts, instant inventories, instant customer feedback to the retailer (meaning better product choices by the stores) and much better inventory management (meaning lower prices!). Never mind trackable warranties, potential theft prevention/insurance, etc, etc, etc...

        Nevermind job cuts...

        Of course, since you have your bread and butter, you don't see that as a big loss do you? I mean afterall, cashiers are unskilled workers anyway, right? The store is better off without them, no?

        I know I was rather horrified to see when a grocery store down the street to me shut down and reopened just up the road. The new store had half the cashiers, but was twice as big. In the place of half of the cashiers were "self-checkout" counters, with one person watching all of them (about 10 in all).

        With RFIDs, now they can get rid of ALL of them, and just pay one thug to wait by the door to beat up on someone who tries to walk out without paying.
        • Give it a break... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by TheOnlyCoolTim ( 264997 ) <tim DOT bolbrock AT verizon DOT net> on Saturday June 07, 2003 @02:43AM (#6137776)
          I suppose we shouldn't have invented telecommunications either... it put the Pony Express riders out of work...

        • And why should they employ people to do a job they can get out of a machine more cost-effectively? Maybe we should stop using machines in car factories and restore lost manufacturing jobs?

          Do you know why you have a grocery store just up the road from you that's stocked with plenty of good food of different varieties at all times of year? Do you know why the average working adult in your town can afford an automobile? Do you know why you have a computer with which to post on /.?

          It's because we have an econ
      • by wiresquire ( 457486 ) on Saturday June 07, 2003 @01:36AM (#6137662) Journal
        Suppose they don't de-activate paid-off RFIDs and let the chips keep on responding to query signals

        Mmmm. And suppose next week you go to a different store wearing the item you bought!

        I hope they do leave them on. I'd hate to miss out on the hours of fun !

        • Re:2 questions... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by pherris ( 314792 ) on Saturday June 07, 2003 @08:21AM (#6138364) Homepage Journal
          I hope they do leave them on. I'd hate to miss out on the hours of fun!
          Assuming that these RFIDs can be turned off. I suspect it's more likely that the RFID is marked as "sold" in their records. If RFID makers can get together and come up with a numbering scheme that would avoid duplicates (similar to MAC addresses) then it shouldn't be a problem.

          The bigger problem is that Walmart tries something like this:

          Joe Blow buys a pair of shoes.

          He pays for them with something other than cash that has his name and address.

          Walmart now sells access to their records to other stores.

          Stores with RFID readers embedded in the floor of the entrance can tell who you are when you walk in. Now they know who you are, your shopping habits, etc.

          The above example could be a good thing if we could only trust companies to protect our privacy (which, IMO, we can't) by allowing companies to give us personalized shopping.

          When Walmart does something everyone notices and reacts. Many have learned that you can't compete with them but you can make money by servicing areas that they have decided not to persue. I suspect that most companies will quitly embrace Wally Worlds actions concerning this.

      • Yeah, but if I now want to use a debit or credit card to pay, now the inventory is matched specifically to me. A response of "No, it won't" seems completely inaccurate to me because I have received store catalogs via postal mail after just a single purchase at a new store. i believe there must be ways to extract your billing address from the swipe of this little piece of plastic.

        At first I thought the solution would be to pay with cold, hard cash, but alas, RFID tags embedded in the paper currency are
    • Re:2 questions... (Score:5, Informative)

      by alptraum ( 239135 ) on Saturday June 07, 2003 @12:44AM (#6137539)
      As someone that actually has done some research into RFID tags (which most /. readers obviously have not) there are two types; passive and active.

      Passive RFID tags require a powered reader unit (such as a handheld unit similar to the ones used for barcodes or a stationary unit) which query the RFID for the information. Since these RFID tags have no power source of their own, even with a powered reader unit the maximum reading distance is ***A FEW FEET***. The amount of data that is able to currently be stored on passive RFID tags is quite small as well. Passive RFID tags are fairly cheap, however unless breakthroughs have been made in the last 6-8 months, they still are not cost effective to stick on anything and everything.

      Powered RFID tags are battery powered and are capable of storing substantially more information than passive RFID tags. Signal distance is also further than passive RFID tags however still, unless you had a reader unit in your house or some sort of truck mounted reader unit went through the neighborhood any RFID tags in your house would be unreadable, the distance even powered RFID tags is pretty short. Tags such as these cost a few dollars each, definately not cost effective to stick on just anything.

      As stated in the article, and from my experience visiting a Walmart regional distribution center, is that RFID tags will be used for logistics/distribution operations. Even if they were going to start sticking RFID tags on everything tomorrow(which would be prohibitedly expensive) their distance limitations would make them useless once you got out into the parking lot, and that erring on the generous side on the distances they can transmit. So unless you have a RFID reader in your house, no worries.

      For the above questions, 1) For a consumer to detect a tag is pretty obvious, they are not that small, plus, all RFID technologies I am aware of require an antennae which would be a give away even if the tag was somehow incorporated inside the product with a small antannae sticking out. Researchers at Motorola have been investigating doing away with the need for an antennae however, maybe they have overcome this issue. 2) No ideas

    • Re:2 questions... (Score:3, Informative)

      by l810c ( 551591 ) *
      I use RFID tags [tagsys.net] in my business. They come on a ~1.5" round sticker for my application. The 'chip' is ~ 1mm * .5mm, the rest of the space is an antenna. I've tried removing these and replacing them and it almost never works. One little crimp in the antenna and my RFID reader [rf-id.com] will not read it.

      Tagsys, however, also has a 'Laundry Tag' that:

      Chip is durable (5 years or 200 washing cycles). It lasts longer than the garment lifetime.

      Does not require line of sight to be read

  • HAH (Score:2, Funny)

    by DarkHelmet ( 120004 )
    I guess those barcodes Walmart tattooed on their employees and customers aren't good enough for tracking them.

    Now they'll need radio tags to do the job right.

  • This technology can be revolutionary for maximizing the efficiency of the supply lines of very large companies such as Wal-Mart. However, the only real way to relieve privacy concerns is to come up with some way for the chip to PERMANENTLY disable itself when the item is purchased, in such a way that it is physically impossible to re-activate the device.

    I don't think this will be done, however. What is more likely is some sort of software "de-activation" that will make consumers happy but will not necess
    • However, the only real way to relieve privacy concerns is to come up with some way for the chip to PERMANENTLY disable itself when the item is purchased

      Good thought, though. Since an RFID is powered by the detector, maybe it can be overpowered, or burned out, in a similar process.
  • by Daikiki ( 227620 ) <daikiki@NospAm.wanadoo.nl> on Friday June 06, 2003 @11:46PM (#6137328) Homepage Journal
    I was talking with a friend about these things recently and he had some good ideas about practical uses for RFID tags. For one, a simple keychain sensor device could be programmed to keep track of your posessions. Wallets, cellphones, sunglasses, could be coded with these tags. If these items were to leave your direct vicinity, the sensor could inform you you're forgetting something. Or being robbed as the case may be.

    Truth be told, I fail to see the privacy issues the adoption of these things would raise. I assume that, once you've brought your item home, you're free to remove the offending tag. Or, if you want to mess with the system, switch 'em around [re-code.com].
    • Truth be told, I fail to see the privacy issues the adoption of these things would raise. I assume that, once you've brought your item home, you're free to remove the offending tag.

      Yes, and in about twenty years, unless the public is continually informed about the possible abuses of RFID, everyone will forget.

      Or tags will be made too small to remove.

      Or hundreds could be put on products to prevent removal.

      Or people could "accidentally" ingest them.

      You're just not imaginative enough, son... :)
      • by Daikiki ( 227620 ) <daikiki@NospAm.wanadoo.nl> on Saturday June 07, 2003 @12:05AM (#6137391) Homepage Journal
        Hey, no basing my imaginations, pops ;)

        Maybe I'm not paranoid enough. High tech crooks cruising a neighbourhood with souped up RFID sensors, scoping out homes to rob. Now there's a thought. The ultimate target is a home that reads plenty of consumer electronics and jewelry tags, but no toothbrushes or combs. Guess they're on vacation. In fact, I like the idea so much that I'd like to be the first to coin the phrase waRFIDing to describe it.
  • by PHAEDRU5 ( 213667 ) <instascreed.gmail@com> on Friday June 06, 2003 @11:46PM (#6137331) Homepage
    I mean, haven't you seen the ad where the dude hides everything under his trenchcoat and gets charges anyway on the way out?

    Yeah, I'm back to cash and the Chamblee Farmers Market.

    Don't try trackn' me! Bastards!
  • Walmart poses the same kind of question as Microsoft not so many years ago. Are they pushing innovation or are they simply doing whatever they can to be a bigger and more profitable company for their shareholders? I think we can guess which is more likely. Money and power obscure all concerns about their consumers' privacy. Walmart, on the other hand, does do much to keep its consumers happy. The Maxim discontinuation and the obscuring of women's magazines covers is in response to the family atmosphere
  • by Little Brother ( 122447 ) <kg4wwn@qsl.net> on Friday June 06, 2003 @11:50PM (#6137341) Journal
    OK, I can understand the privacy concern, but don't let it get out of hand. It is very unlikly these devices will come with a power supply that lasts much longer than the expected shelf life of the item being sold. Also, in order to comply with FCC regulations, they couldn't transmit huge amounts of power or the total field strength in the walmart (where thousands of such devices would constantly be in operation) would exceed safty limits. This basicly means that they won't be able to track you far or long. Far enough to catch a shoplifter, possibly, far enough to keep track of you by a chip in your shirt you purchased at walmart? Probably, but the equiptment to do so would be way to expensive to do routinely, and face it, if the situation is beyond routine, "they" have much better ways of tracking people that don't rely on a chip that can be sent to a different continint via airmail. Most importantly though, with a scale of operations the size of walmart, does anyone think that they intend to spy on everyone there (more than they already can with a security camera every other step)? Inside the store possibly, but the logistics of setting up a grid that can track the transmitters outside of walmart would be extremly impractical. This will probably be what it is supposed to be, a way track not people but merchandise, which has no right to privacy anyway, and to catch people who want to get away with some of it. The only simi-paranoid-rallying use for this that they MIGHT be able to collect aggragate patterns to organize the walmarts for maximum impulse shopping success. But doesn't Kroger and many other grocery stores (with "discout" cards) do this already, yes, there was some minor outrage at first, but has anybody's rights to privacy been significantly damaged by these peaces of plastic? I doubt it.
  • I want a reader with good range, able to ping within 5 feet. Maybe 3, then I just need one for the fridge and one for the cubbord and not have to worry about noise interferance from the trash can.
    Very exciting stuff boys and girls!
    Tonight when I had to decide what to make for dinner I had to walk into the kitchen and look around for what I had. THEN I realized I had no milk for my macaroni and cheese.
    Once these RFID's meet with grocery stores i can see whats avalable from my pda! webtablet! tv! iloo! ipod!
  • New way to advertise (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Visoblast ( 15851 ) on Friday June 06, 2003 @11:51PM (#6137346) Homepage
    Before someone walks past an advertisement display, the display reads the RFID tags the person is carying, figures out things & brands the person might be interested in, and displays a targeted ad.

    Mark this post. With RFID tags, this will happen. Just not right away, admittedly.
    • by MartinB ( 51897 ) on Saturday June 07, 2003 @04:57AM (#6138007) Homepage

      An important thing to realise about targeted ads is that the number of ads won't change - you won't be suddenly blitzed with many more ads. The difference is that the ads you'll see will more frequently be relevant to you.

      Less dross. More stuff you're interested in. Sounds good?

      If anything, the total number of ads will tend to decrease as advertisers won't need to plaster every damned product to make sure they're all seen by the target market. Further, I would expect that each targeting site would be much more expensive than a static site (but probably cheaper than all the static sites they'd need to cover all the product lines).

      Both of these will tend to make the RoI calculation come out in favour of few advertising sites, each with many potential ads they can show.

  • ... this is going to be a huge boost for RFID's. I don't think most realize the huge amount of sway that Wal-Mart has in both the American economy and the World economy in general. They are a huge company: the first retailer to ever become the biggest company in the world. They should change the old saying to "As goes Wal-Mart, so goes the world..."

  • gun control (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Wordsmith ( 183749 ) on Friday June 06, 2003 @11:57PM (#6137363) Homepage
    I'm no gun control proponet, but I wonder if anyone has ever considered mandating these things inside handguns. ALthough there'd be a ton of black-market guns, guns built before the law, guns built outside of the us, etc around, the ones including an RFID would be awfully easy to detect in situations where security is paramount.

    Not saying its a good idea, but I just wonder if its floating out there ...
    • I've heard of embedding biometric technology to key a gun so it can only be fired by certain individual. I wonder if RFID would be a cheaper way to accompish this? The tag could be in your watch, and the gun could read it much like the GM RFID car keys work. Not as secure (you can take my watch) but may prevent some accidental firings and such.
    • Re:gun control (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Jason Earl ( 1894 ) on Saturday June 07, 2003 @12:46AM (#6137546) Homepage Journal

      The problem with this is that guns are not difficult to manufacture. Heck, many popular models still in use to day are simple variations on guns built before electricity. Not to mention the fact that their are literally millions of weapons currently in existence.

      The firearms cat has been out of the bag for several hundred years. Pretending that you can keep firearms out of the hands of criminals (especially criminals that want to get past a security checkpoint) is ridiculous. Worst comes to worse the criminals could simply make their own weapons.

  • Consumer privacy concerns? They already know what you are buying because, well, you do scan the barcodes already. Also, RFID tags are destroyed when you do buy something, for one reason among many being that you don't want to wreck havock with security when people who buy products with embedded RFID tags (i.e. some clothing) bring their products back in with them on subsequent visits.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 06, 2003 @11:57PM (#6137366)
    RFID tags are a great idea, but the potential for abuse by data miners is simply too great-- greedy companies will be tripping over each other to collect data about you and sell it to other companies who want to advertise shit to you.

    RFID tags in merchandise are only half of the equation-- the marketers need a way to attach that data to a specific person-- like if some state gets the bright idea to embed an RFID tag in its driver's licenses. Or if a credit card company puts one in your VISA or MasterCard. Then...

    Bingo. Joe Blow walks through a doorway, and and any still-active RFID tags on his person are collected by the RFID tag reader built unobtrusively into the door frame. Some computer in the back room duly records that Joe Blow has a NJ driver's license, wears Lee Jeans, Hanes boxers, Reebok sneakers, and chews Big Red.
    • by NoData ( 9132 ) <_NoData_ AT yahoo DOT com> on Saturday June 07, 2003 @12:09AM (#6137410)

      Maybe not.

      The problem with the Benetton plan was that the RFIDs were suppose to be embedded in the clothing itself. No one has ever said Walmart is asking for this.

      Certainly, for non-clothing products, I doubt the RFID will be embedded in the product itself. That would be far too costly a change for the manufacturing process. Rather, it will probably be embedded in the packaging itself (like UPCs).
      Even for clothes, I imagine (in Walmart's case) the RFID will be in the clothing tags or packages. I can't imagine Walmart convincing Fruit of the Loom to embed RFIDs in every pair of briefs.

      I think the article does not mention privacy concerns because, frankly, unless the RFID is somehow permanently associated with the product, there are no privacy concerns.
  • RFIDs have the potential to be an excellent inventory tracking device but as this discussion has brought to light there are many issues regarding privacy the public is still concerned about. Rather than let suppliers come to grips with these issues over time Walmart has flexed its buying power over its suppliers and will force them to do what THEY want regardless of what the public or these supply companies believe. I work in the manufacturing sector and I have seen Walmart do this all to many times. For ex
  • by PS-SCUD ( 601089 ) <peternormanscott&yahoo,com> on Friday June 06, 2003 @11:59PM (#6137371) Journal
    Just wrap your entire house in alunimum foil.

    I don't see what the big deal is?
  • They can do it (Score:5, Informative)

    by dirvish ( 574948 ) <dirvish@@@foundnews...com> on Saturday June 07, 2003 @12:01AM (#6137376) Homepage Journal
    If anyone can get the ball rolling on RFID it is Wally World. They have lots of experience putting pressure on manufacturers and distributors. They will just tell the distributors NO RFID=No Wal-Mart. They have so much buying power they can always find someone to sell cheaper, or in this case someone cooperate w/ the RFID rollout. Check out this AlterNet article [alternet.org] about Wal-Mart's questionable business and employment practices. It is titled How Wal-Mart is Remaking our World: Bullying people from your town to China
    • Wal-Mart can be pretty despicable at times. My dad's big in his postal union and they're always talking about Wal-Mart (very anti-union)

      For a while they told workers that they'd "really appreciate" it and that it'd "up the stock price" if they would stay after their shift and work for free for an hour or two.

      big no-no
  • At first I thought, like many, that privacy concerns regarding RFID is no big deal. So what it really doesn't matter?

    But then on second thought, a burglar could drive through a neighborhood querying for expensive items, such as a HDTV, and use that information to decide which houses to rob.

    Maybe there are distance limitations, but just get a good transceiver and filter the noise. High tech burglars are coming.
  • Walmart = sleaze (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Saturday June 07, 2003 @12:08AM (#6137403)

    A friend and I were walking through walmart to get some engine coolant(minor emergency, no choice), and I expressed my distaste for walmart. She asked, "Why? Where else could you get all these wonderful things?"(points to grocery section, hardware, etc.)

    My answer was rather simple. "Well, before Walmart, the center of my town- the local town hardware store, the local grocery store, and so on. But thanks to Home Depot and Walmart running all the local businesses out, now you can't get anything without driving 20+ minutes". So now, for the $2 in savings, I've got to burn $2 in gas just to get there. I've got to spend 5 minutes finding a parking space, 5 walking from the lot into the store, another 5 trying to find the section and get there, another 5-10 waiting in line...so on etc. That's 'better'?

    All because the only thing consumers value these days is the pricetag- not all the other benefits that come from giving your business to a small, locally owned business...or the hidden costs(your time, travel expenses, etc). Lost your reciept? Walmart tells you to go fuck yourself,m you shoplifting scum! Joe at Joe's Hardware remembers selling you that door hinge a few days ago- so the answer is "hey, no problem, here's your money." Not to mention, Joe knows what he's talking about when you ask him a question about doors, instead of some PFY who blankly stares at you because you asked something other than "what aisle is ___ in?"

    You know what? It's not the only thing that bugs me about Walmart- their people are downright sleazy. It's stuff like the stories about Walmart managers taking donated items out of charity dropboxes in the stores that were not in walmart bags, and restocking them onto the shelves. Why? Walmart claimed it was to prevent shoplifting(or, in this case, 'shopdonating'), and items not in Walmart bags must not have been legitimate purchases. The donation box was AFTER the registers, not before. Further- ever been in a Walmart? There's more security cameras than you can count- yet a)items were supposedly shoplifted, yet not caught on tape and b)supposedly walmart didn't have any security cameras covering the area where the donation box was. Uh huh. Oh, and don't get me started on Walmart's union-busting...

    It's so frustrating to see these giant box stores pop up. A big part of the local economy shifts over to that one store- all the mom+pops die off, and everyone that worked for mom+pop end up working for Walmart, they get nice clean blue uniforms, and all is(mostly) good. What happens when Walmart goes the way of K-mart, Caldoors, Bradlees, etc...or decides that store isn't quite profitable enough? Oops. Smallville's unemployment just went to %50.

    • by DrMrLordX ( 559371 )
      Not that I love Wal-Mart, but where I live, it's a shorter drive to the closest Wal-Mart than to all of the stores I might need to visit to get all the goods and services offered by the local Wal-Mart. I can also do this and at least purchase most of said goods at any time of the day(okay, so if I want an eye exam, I'll have to go during the day). The parking at Wal-Mart is usually ample, at least around here, as opposed to a lot of older local "mom & pop" joints. Want to park downtown? Forget it. Y
    • by Imperator ( 17614 ) <{slashdot2} {at} {omershenker.net}> on Saturday June 07, 2003 @12:36AM (#6137518)
      I also hate the way they ask me for a receipt as I walk out the store. My response is always "I've bought this merchandise, so you have no right to stop or search me." More than once they've threatened to call security/police/whatever. To this I point out that if they so much as attempt to restrain me from leaving without good cause, they'll be liable for civil and criminal charges. Just keep walking out and drive away. So long as you have indeed purchased the items you're taking with you, the worst they can legally do to you is ask you not to return.
      • Re:Walmart = sleaze (Score:4, Interesting)

        by call -151 ( 230520 ) on Saturday June 07, 2003 @02:02AM (#6137708) Homepage
        The main reason they check your reciept is not because they think that you may be a thief. It is because they think that their cashiers may be thieves. A standard ploy is for the cashier not to ring up expensive items for a partner. Anyone who has shopped at Fry's Electronics has noticed the "body cavity search" and the reason is that cashier A, by not ringing up a few RAM chips for their buddy customer B, could share in a pretty impressive haul. So the search is desinged to prevent this. The net effect is that Frys/Walmart/Home Depot can then afford to hire non-perfectly honest cashiers, which are much cheaper than honest cashiers, and they pass the savings on to you!

        So don't be offended by the search- or shop elsewhere! People who are outraged by privacy/security issues are ok, but when people feel entitled to privacy AND deep discounts, that seems too much to me.

    • by Polyphemis ( 450226 ) on Saturday June 07, 2003 @01:10AM (#6137599)
      Actually, small note, not all of those ARE security cameras. In the SuperCenter I used to work in, I found out that only a THIRD of the little black domes were actually cameras. The rest were decoys.

      The anti-union crap Wal-Mart puts out is hilarious. Almost half of my training (two weeks) involved watching videos and taking computerized tests agreeing with Wal-Mart on how unions are bad and Wal-Mart is good and that I should never join a union because they'll never help me and Wal-Mart is such a dandy place to work that I'll never want to work anywhere else ever again, or join one of those sleazy unions!

      Between that mindwash and the near-deification of Sam Walton (I'm not joking), the whole training session made me feel like I was joining a cult.

      Back on the subject, the RFIDs and such better have a really simple implementation and there had better be some damned good training for removal, because NONE of the 40+ cashiers at the store I worked at knew how to fully deactivate the existing tags!!

      I attended one of the cashier team meetings and, when asked, NO one had any idea how to do it right. The proper way is to KEEP SWIPING across the little demangetizer until the 'bing' sound stops. How hard is that? With the extreme emphasis on training the people there, you'd think that more people would know that, but they don't. I hope the RFID deactivation methods they employ are FAR simpler than this, because I honestly don't think that that lowest common denominator could handle it if not.
  • by gylle ( 531234 ) on Saturday June 07, 2003 @12:10AM (#6137411)
    Are the RFIDs on products plain serial numbers without meaning, or do they contain information about the product? Would it be worthwile to by a handheld RFID reader and scan for fun stuff in crowded places, e.g., recently bought:
    • pregnancy tests
    • sex toys, porn and lubricant
    • medication for embarassing illnesses
    • guns
    Any other suggestions? ;-)
  • One thing I don't entirely understand is why they insist on embedding the RFID tags in the products themselves instead of in the packaging. If they want inventory control, well, why not just stick the tag in the packaging? About the only problem that would present is if the product was removed from its packaging before purchase, which is a problem even without RFID tags. I suppose, theoretically, shoplifters could remove products from the packaging and walk out of the store with them, but that wouldn't be
  • Think about clothing, or wallets for example. If they didn't diable the tag after you purchase the item, what is to stop them from charging you again next time you visit the store? Also, this would wreak havoc on their inventory control. They would have no idea what is personal property and what is product! I'm guessing they won't go to that trouble though and only scan for the codes in close proximity.
  • This isn't a flame or a troll, just an honest question: what's the BFD about these tags? They'd be a privacy concern to me if they had a long range, or couldn't be removed, turned off, or killed. But AFAIK none of that is true -- they have a very short range, they can easily be removed if you find them, they probably can be disabled remotely, and they can certainly be killed by EMP or something similar.

    For everyone else in the supply chain the benfits are almost incredible: automatic inventory tracking

  • Cool use of RFIDs (Score:2, Interesting)

    How bout this.....you're sitting at home....and you need to buy a bunch of stuff from Wal-Mart.....go to their website....fill out a cart....and either pay with a credit card online...or at the store (i'm getting to that). Then, it prints out a piece of paper with a barcode. You go to the store, and scan the barcode into a little handheld GPS unit. The unit then lights up and shows you graphically where all the products on your list are. If you paid by credit card at home, you walk your cart through the
  • Detection from afar (Score:5, Interesting)

    by presearch ( 214913 ) * on Saturday June 07, 2003 @12:45AM (#6137541)
    Two things bugging me about these posts.

    About drive-by scanning: I believe that you need an antenna that's the
    square of the distance to read a tag. That's why there's a little plate reader
    or handheld at the checkout and those walkthrus at the door are huge.
    To read it from 5 feet, you need 25 sq feet of antenna.

    The other thing is that the tag itself won't be zapped or deactivated.
    Each will hold a key that IDs the product (all 10oz cans of peaches from
    DelMonte will have that same key, like a barcode, probably that same UPC
    number) and it will also have a key that's unique to the tag itself.
    It won't be zapped, it will just change the status record of that item from
    "stocked" to "sold" (or "missing from inventory but not sold").
    Shoplift a sweater, and even if you get it out of the store, if you wear it
    to the store a year later, you could get pinged.

    As much as I hate the idea, you can't blame them for implementing it.
    It opens up a huge world of possibilities and won't cost them that much.

    With Wal-Mart's clout, it will be up to the vendor to eat the cost of the tag,
    WM just has to implement the system and specs the tag. No doubt the tag
    supplier will be a WM subsidiary.

    Don't want to put in the tag in your product Mr. Vendor?
    Sorry, we'll find someone else that will.
  • by Stonent1 ( 594886 ) <<ten.kralctniop.tnenots> <ta> <tnenots>> on Saturday June 07, 2003 @02:09AM (#6137719) Journal
    Do you wave a pass card at the door at work? That's RFID. Do you drive through the quick lane at the toll booth? More RFID. I used to pay at the pump with my key chain. I cut it open after I cancelled the card and found a TI Tiris RFID tube inside. Similar to what they inject into a dog's neck so they can find it if lost. The one used in the Mobil SpeedPass that I had is the one on the right in this picture:
    TI Tiris [ti.com]

    Actual size is about 2cm and about 4mm in diameter.
  • by nich37ways ( 553075 ) <slashdot@37ways.org> on Saturday June 07, 2003 @04:18AM (#6137958) Homepage
    From everything I have read either every tag is a different number or it will be impossible to accurately track people ever.

    If so how big is the number that an RFID tag stores?

    If it is unique per tag then no matter what it will run out bloody quickly, an astronomical number of products are sold every year. If the tag is not unique, ie it is the same as the barcode system and all products of the same type have the same ID then it is impossible to track people!!!

    Also would it not be trivially easy to create a fake RFID generator so you could overload the senor equipment and make it useless??

  • What problem... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nexum ( 516661 ) on Saturday June 07, 2003 @07:07AM (#6138212)
    There are a lot of people crying out about personal rights etc. on this, but I have to say I really don't see what the problem is.

    At all.

    So the store knows more about what you buy, can much more accurately track your purchasing habits, sees which things you like, and which you don't, knows how much you spend every month in the store etc.

    What's the big-ass problem for crying out loud?

    I *want* the stores to know my buying habits so that they can do a better jobs of providing me with more of the things I like!

    Ask yourselves WHY the store wants to know this? It's so that they can tailor themselves to YOU, to give YOU a better service and more of the things you want to spend your money on. Why on Earth would Walmart put money into something that would frustrate, irritate or otherwise turn away customers?!?

    I say bring it on! I say, yeah, let's see my tastes and purchasing history take their place in the big database so that I become a future dynamic of the store!

    All these privacy advocates going nuts are well off the mark... get some common sense in your head... these people don't want to take away your life... they're not like the common fictional evil genius with a mad plot to eradicate privacy from the face of the world (muhahaha).

    I genuinely see this as a *service*, cannot wait for it to be implemented and have absolutely NO worries about the scheme at all. Stop watching too much X-Files!

    • by adzoox ( 615327 ) * on Saturday June 07, 2003 @08:31AM (#6138387) Journal
      Apparently, in your "enlightenment & understanding" you haven't read others concerns about RFID.

      While it may be FUD only, this technology being used to track ALL that you buy is the concern. RFID will eventually be "mainstreamed" and many people such as yourself won't see a problem with it being in money or in credit cards. Again, no FUD just fact, the FBI has already planned an investigation about RFID in money [eetimes.com] Why is this a privacy concern? What I'm about to say may be an ethical issue but it is seen different ways by different people. What if I want to buy some marijuana with that note? What if I want to pay the kid down the down the street to cut my lawn? What if that same kid does drugs? Now, I am suspect for being in "drug ring" if they can trace all those RFIDs.

      Same with purchases from Walmart. What if I happen to purchase a combination of items unknowingly, that the average drug user purchases. Will I be profiled for that buying habit too?

      I am with you, it's coming no matter what. It will be hard to stop. But, there are legitimate concerns.

      I will hope that Walmart will adopt the Philips chip that you can turn off [zdnet.co.uk] if the customer so wills to.

      You would be amazed at what your grocery store bonus card data holds about you! Returns, complaints to the store, not just sales data. Again, what if something with an RFID or something trackable has your fingerprints on it, are you suspect when the "bad guy" buys it from Goodwill or steals it? Not only do we need Walmart to understand that before they make this step that we want on off switches, but we would also like disassociation capability. IE, erasure of your association with an RFID. Also, yearly reports by email or mail on what your RFID info holds and what data they truly are keeping about you would be nice.

  • by Illserve ( 56215 ) on Saturday June 07, 2003 @08:19AM (#6138360)
    Seriously, I want every scrap of wood and piece of paper in my house to have RFID's. RFID represents a merging of our informational universe with the physical. With RFID tags on items, I can represent them in my PDA and have them be hi-lighted in a HUD mounted on my glasses.

    Imagine never losing anything again ever. That's a serious possibility of a world in which RFID tags are ubiqutous.

    Yes there are potential privacy issues, but there are always privacy issues with any convenience technology. We get around them on a case by case basis as usual (e.g snail-mail: porno subscriptions arrive in brown paper wrapping).

    How is the RFID worry any worse than TCP-IP, which passes through many unsecure places on the way to its destination? It's not, we've just already got a good handle on TCP-IP security, but noone's thought of similar ways to handle RFID.

    They will, and the problems will be solved, as they always are. The sky isn't falling, it never does.
  • by rudy_wayne ( 414635 ) on Saturday June 07, 2003 @08:29AM (#6138382)
    Just one more example of the rampant ignorance that is becoming more pervasive in our society. No matter how many times it is pointed out that RFID tags have a very small range and nobody can drive by your house and scan everything you own, people continue to rant against RFID tags.

    • Scenario:

      1. I buy new tires for my car at Walmart. Each tire has an RFID tag for legitimate inventory tracking purposes.

      2. McDonalds installs an RFID tag reader that checks for a RFID tag in the front left tire while driving through the drive through.

      3a. When McDonalds sees that RFID tag again, they are able to display on their order board items which I am likely to buy, based on my vehicle's previous orders. (Nothing particularly wrong here)

      3b. When McDonalds sees that RFID tag again, they subtly
  • by AgTiger ( 458268 ) on Saturday June 07, 2003 @11:11AM (#6138917) Homepage
    Does anyone know what frequency or frequency range these passive RFID's work in? It should be possible to build a 1 milliwatt transmitter on that frequency for one's own house, thus ensuring that products at home remain well behaved (anonymous).

    Secondly if something I purchase is going to be sending an ID to readers that I don't specifically authorize, I'd like to get my own reader so I know with certainty that I've located and disabled the RFID on or in the product, since my own reader stops picking up a response/reply from the RFID.

    Anyone know where consumers can purchase RFID readers?

  • by KC7GR ( 473279 ) on Saturday June 07, 2003 @11:25AM (#6138950) Homepage Journal
    Ok. Here's my $0.02 worth. I have no issue whatsoever with these things being used in the store where the merchandise is purchased. In that respect, they're no different from electronic anti-theft tags.

    I have a BIG problem with leaving the tags active and able to respond outside of said store environment. So, with that in mind (and maybe this should be turned into an 'Ask Slashdot' question):

    What countermeasures are available to kill the tags, but not harm the item they're attached to, once you leave the store environment? Some ideas that come immediately to my mind are:

    (1) Stuff your purchase into a microwave oven for a few seconds. That should effectively fry the tag. Unfortunately, this may not be practical for clothing containing metal buttons, zippers, or snaps.

    (2) Build or buy a small EMP device designed expressly to destroy the tag's functionality. Could have varying degrees of difficulty, depending on one's skill with electronics, or the availability of such devices at the commercial level.

    (3) Other ideas...?

I judge a religion as being good or bad based on whether its adherents become better people as a result of practicing it. - Joe Mullally, computer salesman