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How Retailers Watch You 257

garzpacho writes, "With $30 billion lost to shoplifting and employee theft last year, retailers are turning to increasingly sophisticated electronic surveillance systems to fight theft. Some systems, like RFID tags, have been well-publicized by privacy advocates. Others are less well known: video surveillance systems are being tied to software that can recognize specific types of activity and identify individuals; and data-mining software is being used to analyze everything from shoppers' habits to irregular register activity." From the article: "Despite this revolution in retail tech, you won't find many stores bragging about their new security tools. No one wants to tip off shoplifters or advertise that they suspect their customers. That's why so much of the technology is hidden in the first place. But another reason stores don't talk much about surveillance is that they know it sparks concerns about privacy. Consumer groups and legislators have opposed the spread of RFID and video surveillance for just that reason."
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How Retailers Watch You

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  • by Kelson ( 129150 ) * on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @06:12PM (#16048525) Homepage Journal
    I can think of a number of times when I've bought something and the clerk -- whether new to the job, distracted, or just lazy -- has forgotten to deactivate or remove the RFID tag, and I've walked toward the front door and had the alarm go off.

    The most recent was just two days ago -- I'd ordered a DVD on sale from Best Buy's website, and chose the store pickup option. Basically you choose a nearby store, they hold it for you at the customer service counter, and you walk in with your order info and pick up the item and a receipt. The customer service people presumably hadn't been trained to deactivate it, and I certainly didn't have any reason to go through the line -- I'd paid for it already, after all -- and the greeter/receipt checker certainly had no reason to think that it hadn't already been deactivated. It wasn't a big deal, as the guy had already seen my receipt and just took it over to the counter to deactivate it, but it was still an easily-avoidable false alarm.

    The worst are clothing and/or department stores, especially around holidays. A couple of years ago I bought an item at Robinson's May on the second floor, walked downstairs, walked out the door, had the alarms go off -- and no one reacted. OK, I had a store bag, but if I'd been a shoplifter, I could have walked right off and no one would have noticed, despite the blaring alarm. I went back and forth a few times to make sure it was my bag, then went to the nearest cash register -- note, not anywhere near where I paid for it -- told them what had happened, and they didn't even check my receipt before pulling it out and removing the tag.

    I've been at other clothing stores and heard the shoplifter alarm go off repeatedly during a half-hour stay. I think I've only seen an employee approach someone once. I assume this means there are so many false alarms that they have no sense of urgency when an alarm goes off, because most of the time, it's a customer who is going to come back of their own volition so they can get the tag removed and actually wear whatever it is. It's just sound and fury.

    You can have the greatest detection tech in the world, but if people don't use it properly, it won't help one bit.
    • by Kelson ( 129150 ) *
      D'oh! s/RFID/EAS/
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Just this weekend, I walked into a Fred Meyer (with which I have prior experience with the oversensitive detectors going off...) with my backpack full of DVDs and burned media (most of which was over 3 years old) and set the alarm off. I got a passing glance from an employee who was nearby.

      Yeah, I made damn sure she saw me when I left, because I knew it would go off again.

      Figured out it was an old DVD that I bought in another state, at another chain, and never opened... 3 years ago.

      Damn Hastings and the E
      • by HungWeiLo ( 250320 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @07:40PM (#16048994)
        When I worked at Fred Meyer as a teenager, we were told a few things:

        - We can't stop anyone unless we actually see them stuff merchandise into their pockets/bags.
        - If the item taken from the store is visibly determined to be less than $50, let it go.
        - Otherwise, chase, but don't run too fast as to attract aggression from the accused, as far as the end of the parking lot.
        - Security leaves at 6pm on weekdays. They don't work weekends. No videos are taken in any part of the store.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lehk228 ( 705449 )
      if you took off running they would have chased you

      the alarms are meant to catch amature shoplifters since the pro's will have the tools they need to remove tags anyways
      • by geekoid ( 135745 )
        "if you took off running they would have chased you"
        depends on the state and on the policy.
        Chasing a person into traffic is a sure way to get sued.

        Hell, touching the person is a good way to gte sued, and it should be.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jcr ( 53032 )
      they didn't even check my receipt before pulling it out and removing the tag.

      That's probably quite reasonable. How many shoplifters are brazen enough to go looking for a store employee like that?

      -jcr
      • "That's probably quite reasonable. How many shoplifters are brazen enough to go looking for a store employee like that?"

        Just to add to this point: Most times, the person who checks the receipts can watch the person walk straight from the register to the door. The odds are pretty darned low that a would-be thief would take that route. Even if they did, is it worth stopping the occasional thief if you inconvenience a number of legit customers?
    • That's what many false alarms get you. Nobody cares for the alarm anymore, thinking it's a false one anyway.

      It's like a school with an overzealous principal holding fire drills about once a week. When there was a real fire finally, a lot of people died thinking it was another stupid drill and didn't bother to get out in time.
      • "It's like a school with an overzealous principal holding fire drills about once a week. When there was a real fire finally, a lot of people died thinking it was another stupid drill and didn't bother to get out in time."

        However, most school fire drills don't incorporate smoke machines. Smoke is the sign of fire, as a beeping alarm is (supposedly) the sign of theft.

        Perhaps it's more like someone observing war games and assuming that the country is under attack. It REALLY looks like the real thing, and could
    • by Harmonious Botch ( 921977 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @07:21PM (#16048890) Homepage Journal
      I own a store ( a lot smaller than Best Buy ). I try to encourage my employees to think like the boss; to have the same goals and the same motivations. To accomplish this, one of their perks is to be able to consign merchandise here. When it sells, they get 80%, the house keeps 20%.

      So they have an incentive to prevent shoplifting, for it could be their stuff going out the door. THe most extreme case was when one of my employees ran after an obvious shoplifter, and tacked him across the street. He had him pinned down on the sidewalk, stolen merchandise spilled in plain view. He yelled for the employee in the place across the street to please call the cops. The other employee refused because he 'didn't want to get involved.' After all, why should he? He was paid by the hour and got the same amount whether he tried or not.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by HungWeiLo ( 250320 )
        When I worked for a big box, I was told to not have any physical contact with the accused.

        Pinned down on the sidewalk? Does this formerly pinned-down individual and his lawyer own your store yet?
        • by Harmonious Botch ( 921977 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @09:09PM (#16049399) Homepage Journal
          As the owner of a tangible piece of property, or as an agent ( employee ) of the owner, you have the right to grab people who steal from you. You can make a citizen's arrest. You just have to be able to convince a judge/jury in civil court that your actions are reasonable. You can use force, just no more than a judge considers neccesary.

          You are a perfect example of what I am talking about in GP. ( And I mean no offense by saying that. ) Your employers decided to give you an incentive not to prevent shoplifting. They told you only the bad side of grabbing shoplifters. And you responded accordingly.
          It all makes sense from their point of view. When they have multi-million dollar deep pockets they are a target for a lawsuit by a lawyer operating on contingency. Even if that lawyer knows that his odds of winning are only 1 in a 1000, it still makes sense for him to try it. So they take the low-risk approach.
          But for me, whose total possesions would bring less than a 100 grand if seized and sold at fire sale, it does make sense for me and my employees to use force. I have relatively shallow pockets. I'm not a potential target for a contingency lawyer. No lawyer will touch a lawsuit against me unless the plantiff pays thousands up front.

          It is kind of ironic. Criminal law codes permit them to grab people, but civil law ( as it is currently understood ) makes it unreasonable.

          IANALBIAMTO ( ...but I am married to one )
    • by raehl ( 609729 ) <.moc.oohay. .ta. .113lhear.> on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @07:23PM (#16048897) Homepage
      As someone who knows quite a few people who work retail and work retail loss prevention, you could have very simply been at a store where no one is authorized to do anything about shoplifters except specified loss prevention employees.

      Or, a store where secrity watches you pretty closely on camera and the employees know that if you set off an alarm, and then get back to the register to have it deactivated, and loss prevention hasn't shown up already, that you're in the clear.

      Or, you could live in a state where concealing unpurchased items is enough for a shoplifting conviction, in which case if you go through the securty gates with stuff in a bag, either you've already purchased the items and someone forgot to deactivate the tag, or loss prevention never saw you put something in the bag and there's nothing they can do about it anyway (and most times, if you're in the store with a bag from that store, loss prevention is going to be all over you.)

      It may appear unreasonable to you, but you ust don't know how (or why) it works the way it does.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        no one is authorized to do anything about shoplifters except specified loss prevention employees

        Because of insurance. If there is any insurance against liability and such in these cases, you can bet the premiums will change based on whether you allow anyone to do anything, or only 'trained' specified individuals.

        Rightly, or wrongly.

    • I never realized that before. Well, that certainly explains why I kept constantly hearing the alarm go off at a Target. No one seemed to check. Just person after person went through the doors, and every now and then, alarm.
    • by geekoid ( 135745 )
      When leaving a store, I will not stop just because some infernal machine starts beeping and whirring.
      I also wont letthem look through my bags, unless I ahve a signed agreement to do so.

    • My girlfriend and I walked out of Walgreen's ... and the detector went off. The only things we had bought were a couple of Cokes that we we're carrying in our hands. We're regular customers so nobody gave us a hard time: but we stood there in front of the detector pylons going through her purse to see what was going on. Turned out that every time her compact mirror (it was in a metal case) touched a particular metallic lipstick tube the buzzer would sound. I have no idea how that's possible but it was weird
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by jacquems ( 610184 )

      Some stores are just more with it than others. Like J Crew, Gap also uses the sewn-in EAS tags, but they seem to be pretty bad about deactivating them (and about telling customers to cut them out). I found this out the hard way when I didn't notice one in my 3-year-old's jeans and she set of theft alarms wherever we went.

      When I worked in Accessories at Dillard's in Austin, I was right near an exit to the parking lot. Our alarms went off all the time, but it was seldom because of our own merchandise. Most

    • I bought an item at Robinson's May on the second floor, walked downstairs, walked out the door, had the alarms go off -- and no one reacted.

      Of course no one reacted. Didn't you read the article? Those systems are more and more interconnected and talk to each other.

      The hidden camera took your foto and submited it to the TSA. Just wait until you board your next flight. Two gentlemen will grab you and ship you off to Guantanamo.

      Of course you didn't steal, but how should the system know that? We call that

  • by w33t ( 978574 ) * on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @06:12PM (#16048527) Homepage
    Does anyone remember the commercial where the suspicious looking guy with the trenchcoat walks around a store, stuffing things into his pockets and makes for the door only to have an employee stop him saying, "sir, you dropped something," and handing the item to him?

    I wonder if indeed there will be stores in the future - perhaps entire malls - where to even enter you will need to have a wireless credit device.

    I don't like the retailers watching me, but perhaps I wouldn't feel so strange about the actual merchandise itself watching me.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      That's almost how it works at my local library. Put all your books on a RFID reading pad, swipe your card, confirm the list and you're out of there. I wish self checkout in all stores was like that. You could pay with cash if you wanted to remain anonymous.
    • Well these are things that will greatly enhance life. But the downside it could make it easier to use for evil uses too. But that has always been the case with technology. Things like RFID tags can be used to greatly improve our lives make checkout extremely quick. That way I can go to the store get my milk and leave. Without having to take out my wallet or wait in line only to realize the person ahead of you doesn't understand simple concepts like American Grocery Stores don't bargain their prices. But
    • If I remember correctly it was an IBM commercial.
    • by geekoid ( 135745 )
      that would be great technology to see implimented, but I would like some consumer and citizen protection put into place.
    • At the moment a lot of large stores have "self checkout" lanes where you scan and bag stuff yourself. These use various clever means to detect that the thing you've scanned is the thing you bag. In a couple of years, once the price goes down, each item will have its barcode on an RFID tag. Put everything in your bag, walk through a thing similar to existing security gates in stores, and within about 10 seconds it will have worked out all the items you bought, priced them up, and you just put in your card
  • by slowbad ( 714725 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @06:16PM (#16048546)
    I shop online from home.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Sqwubbsy ( 723014 )
      Funny you mention that, I'm IM'ing my buddy from Macy's and he wants you to stand up and growl like a dragon...
  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @06:17PM (#16048549) Journal
    Cost is one reason retailers are holding back: Tags run from 7 cents to 20 cents apiece, based on quantity; many are waiting for a 5 cents tag before investing in the technology. "The tags would have to be a lot cheaper... to put them on a bottle of water or pack of gum and add value rather than cost," explains Simon Langford, Wal-Mart's manager of RFID strategy.
    Well, that's an interesting point. But equally interesting would be investigating the possibility of putting tags on, say, maybe one in five or a fraction of your products. The idea being that you don't catch everyone who shoplifts your product but you do catch a fraction of them. Ideally, it only takes one infraction for someone to realize that it just isn't a good way strategy for obtaining items. I know this isn't how it is, many shoplifters continue with the infractions but it's better than nothing and might put the solution in your price range.
  • I wonder... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Quaoar ( 614366 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @06:19PM (#16048557)
    How long will it be until these systems start to look at the ethnicity/gender/age of people and use that to gauge threat level? We're on a slippery slope here...
    • And that's different from their current "security system" how? At Circuit Shitty and Worst Buy they just have some poor employee follow me around.
    • Ah you clearly haven't seen Mr Blair's UK initiative [guardian.co.uk].

      Ok it's not retailers, but I think your point was broader than you realise.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by SteveXE ( 641833 )
      Sorta related... Yesterday at Target a hispanic man and women set off the door alarm when they went through. A white women went through after them during the alarm. The guy started flipping out because he felts his rights were being violated and he was only stopped because of his skin color. He was yelling "Why does she get to go by? Cause shes white!" He was screamin at the top of his lungs all the way to the car...it was pretty tense.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        The screaming would be a great distraction while the white woman sailed through the gates with who-knows-what in her coat.
    • How long will it be until these systems start to look at the ethnicity/gender/age of people and use that to gauge threat level?

      Quite a while, I'd imagine. I've never heard of any system that has the capacity to determine that information from a video clip. Even facial recognition systems, which are comparing a face to a given set of possibles, are quite flakey. A recognition system that is supposed to derive general data from low-quality, non-direct-facing security footage, especially data that humans ca
      • How exactly do you determine how old a person is from film?

        You use motion estimation [cf.ac.uk] to compute motion for every pixel in the frame. Using standard image segmentation algorithms you pull out the motions corresponding to pixels in each person in the camera view. You then track these for each segment over time. Now you switch to the frequency domain by computing the FFT of this data. People of different ages tend to produce peaks at different frequencies (this is kind of intuitively obvious). You compare a

        • Is there a system that does this in the real world? Because I would be interested in how it compensates for, say, people in bulky clothing, exceptionally short people, exceptionally tall people, people with some sort of movement-impairing injury (crutches, arm in a sling, limp). There are so many variables that affect the way people move, that I imagine it would be very difficult to make a reasonably accurate system that could cope with the variations of so many people. That's not to say it would be impossi
          • by Jerf ( 17166 )
            The problem with using that form of reasoning is that the result is statistical. Even if the system "can't cope" with a Hispanic male on crutches and misidentifies him as an Asian female, it's not the end of the world, because there was already a chance the system would make a mistake anyhow.

            Pointing out that a statistical system will have outliers and exceptions is nearly tautological and information-free. The question is, is it accurate enough to be more accurate than the same security system (which in th
            • It certainly is difficult to make a useful system, but the outliers are just part of the problem, and pointing out that outliers exist doesn't provide evidence either way.

              The question is whether the outliers compose 2% of the system's subjects, or 30%. My point was that if you're relying on movement patterns to make the categorization, anything that affects movement will increase the systems inaccuracy, and there are lots of things that make someone's movements deviate from the norm - injury, sore legs,
    • by Surt ( 22457 )
      Like another poster, I was at a target with my wife yesterday. I'm very white. They failed to charge us for two items, and being honest people, we informed the cashier. Cashier calls manager. Manager says: who cares ... have a nice weekend, and then walks to the exit and starts inspecting the receipts vs. goods of hispanic-appearing patrons leaving the store.

  • by ConfusedSelfHating ( 1000521 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @06:20PM (#16048564)
    Professional shoplifters will target multiple stores, so it would be in the interests of the retail industry to share information. Barring legislation they would have no reason to delete this information. If you act suspiciously once, you could be tagged for life. They could match all of your purchases (even cash purchases) with your face for life. The LCD screen near the entrance could change to match what they want to sell you.

    Think data mining in the physical world. It's just going to get worse over time.
  • Think of the cameras as hi-tech plain clothes store "detectives;" y'know, the pensioners who are paid to blend in with the patrons and report anyone suspicious. The cameras and high-density servers just do their job, only more efficiently and less expensively.

    I swear, some days Slashdot just seems so... analog and anti-progress.
    • by Ubergrendle ( 531719 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @06:32PM (#16048636) Journal
      A long time ago when I worked in retail (Computer City), we had store numbers that suggested anywhere from 50-100% of our net-profit each week disappeared due to 'shrinkage' -- that was the innocuous term used for shoplifting. Back then companies weren't so blatant as to openly suggest a large # of our 'customers' were liberating the products, but that was precisely what was happening. Pretty slick stuff to.. it was back when Win95 was release, people would use razor blades to open the box, slide out the cds, and leave the box behind. That's why now shrinkwrapped software comes in that ridiculous overpackaging -- the corragated cardbord box inside a box is to prevent quick theft.

      Stores are private property. Arrests and/or charges are still to be laid by legitimate police officers too, the most they can do is detain you. Your rights are not violated in any way. /I'm speaking as a Canadian, but our laws are roughly equivalent in this regard.

      I don't even mind RFIDs too much, but think they should be designed to be easily removable once you leave the store. This will take a few years to sort out I'm sure, but inventory tracking is a huge potential cost savings.
      • Back then companies weren't so blatant as to openly suggest a large # of our 'customers' were liberating the products, but that was precisely what was happening.

        The people who pay for the item are the customers. The people who shoplift are criminals.
      • Customer shoplifting is a noticeable part of shrinkage, but it's definitely not the only part, and in many retail stores it's not even the major cause. More often than not, employee theft or incompetence will be the cause of shrinkage. Throwing merchandise in the garbage to pick it up later, just taking stuff when the employee leaves the shift, or just forgetting to ring an item are the more common reasons for shrinkage in many US chains. When you add to this all kinds of underhanded tactics to take cash di
      • re: Computer City (Score:3, Interesting)

        by King_TJ ( 85913 )
        I can tell you for a fact that theft at the Computer City stores we used to have here in St. Louis, MO (USA) was mostly by employees. I used to run a popular computer BBS back in those days, and one of their employees offered to barter hardware for download credits with me one time. I visited his apartment, willing to discuss the idea - and found a large walk-in closet stuffed full of brand new CD-ROM drives, RAM, hard drives, and other goodies. He worked at Computer City and admitted that a group of the
  • When you use a credit card - I just wish the people who want your home phone number, the people who want to see your drivers licence, the people who want your addrss and zipcode and the people who want the hash code off the credit card would all get together and decide which pain in my ass I have to accept.
  • In Sweden, we had a raging debate over this a few years ago. It all started out when a mall wanted to put camera surveillance in the dressing rooms. Apparently, this is where most of the thefts occur.

    I seriously doubt that we will have a waterproof method anytime soon, but I imagine that we will eventually have nano technology that you can simply spray on merchandise and deactivate it only at the desk. You can't remove what you cannot see but as long as we're using bulky stuff and stamps on it, people wi
  • Others are less well known: video surveillance systems are being tied to software that can recognize specific types of activity and identify individuals; and data-mining software is being used to analyze everything from shoppers' habits to irregular register activity.

    Yeah, I'd love to see the false-positive rate on these. I've used that travesty they call a "self-check-out" at Home Depot enough times to know that they can't even put together a machine that can correctly detect a bag of nails, much less f
  • by mrs clear plastic ( 229108 ) <allyn@clearplastic.com> on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @06:25PM (#16048588) Homepage
    Lets please assume absolutely no privacy in any retail facility. Not even in the dressing rooms.

    I make most of my own clothes; I have not shopped new clothes for 10 years, however the few times that i have used a dressing room, I put on a pair of new, clean underwear prior to leaving home to go shopping. This way, I have no cause to care if I am watched in the dressing rooms.

    Also please don't assume you can see the cameras. I was given a demo of a high quality video camera that was smaller than amout 1/2 inch square and about 1/4 inch thick.

    Retail facilities are not synominous with privacy.
    • I make most of my own clothes; I have not shopped new clothes for 10 years

      If you know your size and generally just wear the same styles, you can just order your clothes on the internet.

    • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) *
      Retail facilities are not synominous with privacy.

      Sure. Why should you have any expectation of privacy on somebody else's property, unless you're in an area where they explicitly tell you that you have that privacy? A store should have every right to station as many employees as it wants to around the store, or put up as many cameras it wants, and run whatever algorithms it wants to on them. Of course, if they explicitly tell you that you won't be watched in a certain area (such as a bathroom stall), they'r
      • Why should you have any expectation of privacy on somebody else's property, unless you're in an area where they explicitly tell you that you have that privacy?

        I suspect you'd find that most people, including the judge and jury, would interpret a closed-off area such as a dressing room or bathroom cubicle as an implied promise of privacy.

        To take a more objective view, suppose we said that stores could provide (or not) whatever privacy guarantees they liked, but must provide very clear signage describin

    • Only on /, (Score:4, Funny)

      by SonicSpike ( 242293 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @08:16PM (#16049167) Homepage Journal
      Only on /. would someone make a point to mention that they put on clean underware before leaving their domicile. I think normal people must take clean underware for granted!

      *rolling eyes*
      • by Surt ( 22457 )
        Only on /. would someone make a point to mention that they put on clean underware before leaving their domicile. I think normal people must take clean underware for granted!

        Only on slashdot would someone try to get away with first claiming to be a woman, then a fashionable woman (who reads and posts on slashdot no less) capable of making their own clothes, then blow their cover by talking about putting on clean underwear before leaving home.
      • Only on /. would someone make a point to mention that they put on clean underware before leaving their domicile. I think normal people must take clean underware for granted!
        I think most normal people simply don't let their underwear get very dirty.
    • This way, I have no cause to care if I am watched in the dressing rooms.
      Judging from the clothing your selling on your website you seem to have no cause to care most of the time.
  • by Bakafish ( 114674 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @06:39PM (#16048668) Homepage
    The other day when I went to my local Safeway supermarket, I selected a plastic hand-basket and noticed something odd. It had a small black box, about 1" X 1/2" X 1/4" sloppily zip tied to the underside of the basket. I flipped the basket over, and read some company logo along the lines of ShopTracker or some such thing. I was pretty irked, so I tossed it behind the stack of baskets and selected an unencumbered model. They want to know where you visit, and where you linger. No warning on the basket at all...
    • I think they started using those 'tracking' baskets about the time that I moved to a new apartment.

      ok, ok; I'll return the 100+ baskets I borrowed. think that will confuse them? an infusion of low-tech non-trackable baskets from hell..

      btw, one trick is to modify the electronics in the basket. change the 10k resistor (r12) to 12k. they really hate that.
  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @06:45PM (#16048697)
    I just checked my last grocery receipt and I have saved somewhere between $200 and $250 this year so far using that card. That's good money for me to be saving. That's about a month and a half of gas money for my commute to work! I could care less if I lose a little privacy for that kind of savings because I get something that I can see the benefits of.

    But what have I gotten out of **government** privacy invasions.

    Jack.

    Shit.

    Unless you are one of those soccer moms or country club dads who is so terrified of a few sabre-rattling third world nutjobs that you think that anything that gives you a 0.000000000001% great chance of not being hit by a terrorist is worth it.

    (Being a southern, I saw respond with a middle finger and rebel yell)
    • It's ok if you can choose to give up your privacy. You want the card 'cause it saves you money, fine. If someone doesn't, he can simply opt not to. FYI, there are even companies that give you good money if you tell them about your choices and shopping habits.

      It stops being ok if there is no chance to avoid it. Cameras don't discriminate between people who consider it ok to be filmed and those who don't. Also, it stops being ok when it becomes suspicious if you don't opt to take the card and be monitored.

      As
      • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) *
        It stops being ok if there is no chance to avoid it. Cameras don't discriminate between people who consider it ok to be filmed and those who don't.

        I'm not sure I follow. Should it be illlegal for people to use cameras at all, since it's possible somebody who doesn't want to be filmed will wander into view?

        As long as you can choose, it's fine. It's not when it is forced upon you.

        What do you mean by being "forced upon you"? For example, to shop at Costco you -have- to have a membership card. Is that ok?
        • by jhagler ( 102984 )
          to shop at Costco you -have- to have a membership card. Is that ok?

          Yes. There are certain stores (Costco, Sams Club, etc.) that require you to have a membership to shop there. If you don't want to be tracked -- don't shop there. The stores that require memberships are few and far between, you are by no means required to shop at them. If however they all start requiring memberships I see a lot more people starting to shop at the mom-and-pop's, altogether not a bad thing.

          As for full disclosure; I have a (
    • by lawpoop ( 604919 )
      I'm suspicious that I'm saving anything with my shopper cards. I think all that's happened is that the normal sales that would be available to anyone who wanted to buy the item are now only available now to card holders -- that you aren't saving any money over and above that you would have saved before the shopper cards.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I know this: I shopped at Martins in West by God Virginia (USA), and shopped there regularly before they introduced their "Shopper Card". I didn't get one, at first, thinking, "why do I need this?"

        Then I noticed that my normal shopping bill went up by a few dollars, in the space of a week. I started looking around, and sure enough, items that I regularly bought for $4.99, or whatever, now had "$4.99" in some bold color, and underneath in very small print, said, "$5.99 without shopper card".

        So I got a car

        • while (1) {

          them: "here sir, please fill out this form and you can start using your 'savings' card today."
          me: "I'm kind of in a hurry, can I fill it out and get the top part back to you?"
          them: "sure. have a nice day."

          }

    • by xeoron ( 639412 )
      Plus you can always give false personal info. I clearly gave CVS false info and they did not care. One example I have used at a different store: Jane Doe that lives on 194 Anonymous St.... with a phone number of 432-111-1111.
    • I just checked my last grocery receipt and I have saved somewhere between $200 and $250 this year so far using that card.
      If that's the price of freedom, I pay it gladly.
  • by SteveXE ( 641833 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @06:52PM (#16048734)
    Targets security is going insane. I've seen them stop people who they watched pay for their items. The best was a guy who bought a Grill and only a grill. It was in a HUGE box and 2 target guys where wheeling it out for him. The security guard watched him pay for it and he still stopped him at the day to verify his receipt. All that does is tell your customers we dont trust you.
    • On the other hand, if the guard only stopped people who he wasn't sure had paid for their items, he could be accused of racial/gender/age/etc profiling, regardless if it was true or not.

      A policy to verify with EVERYONE at least ensures this can't happen.

      As for me, a college student with no car, I do all my shopping online.

    • by Surt ( 22457 )
      They have actually a very simple policy designed to make the security guy's work easy enough for a guy who gets paid $6/hr to do it. Check the receipt on every item not in a bag. Check the receipt on any obvious high price item going out the store.

      That's it.

      The grill (which you described as big) was presumably not in a box.

      This also helps to prevent fraud committed by employees. Imagine that the cashier was helping his friend steal the grill. It looks like he went through the checkout, it looks like he
    • In cases like that, it's often the employees they don't trust.

      It's not that hard to slap on a lower-priced sticker from an item, arrange with your good buddy to scan you through, and make a normal looking transaction a quick pay-off.

      The guy checking the receipts is checking up on the employees just as much - if not more - than the customers.
  • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @06:57PM (#16048755)

    Remember those hand held beepers that home answering machines used to come with? I managed a 5 and dime back in the early 90's. The most advanced pieces of technology that we had were some two-way mirrors. Whenever I suspected someone of shoplifting (but couldn't prove it), I would stand next to the exit with one of those beepers and hit it when the person tried to leave. I had about even odds on the person either immediately professing their guilt, running, or otherwise doing something funny in response to the beeper. It was quite fun, actually.

    And now my social commentary: we were in a really, really wealthy resort town. The people who were stealing (or at least who we caught stealing) were almost always the teenage daughters of the rich guys that came to the town for vacations... what gives? Any psychologists reading? I mean, we also caught some teenage boys and even a nun, but most were teenage girls. Older men and women were better at stealing, and usually it took the form of price-sticker swapping. We didn't catch them as often. Usually they would get caught by handing a mis-priced product to the cashier that had just spent an hour pricing the same item :)

    • by penix1 ( 722987 )
      "The people who were stealing (or at least who we caught stealing) were almost always the teenage daughters of the rich guys that came to the town for vacations... what gives? Any psychologists reading?"

      No, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night...;-)

      I would suspect (this is just a guess though) that it is thrill / attention seeking behavior. Let's face it, when daddy arrives to pick up the little princess, she finally has his attention.

      When I was in college I worked for Burger King down the road from t
      • Yeah, I think you might be right. I guess boys do other, more dangerous things to seek their thrills. :)

        By the way, usually the MOTHERS come in to pick them up. I really hated calling parents when it was a friend of the family. If the parents copped an attitude like you were talking about, we simply said, "I don't have time for this - I'm just going to let the police sort it out," and pick up the phone. Not once did the parent continue to give us a hard time after that. We hardly ever really called the pol

    • by lawpoop ( 604919 )
      "The people who were stealing (or at least who we caught stealing) were almost always the teenage daughters of the rich guys that came to the town for vacations... what gives? Any psychologists reading?"

      Boredom. Sheer boredom. Shoplifting is exhilirating because it is wrong. If you are successful, you get an item for free. If you fail, the punishment isn't too bad. Either way, you are guaranteed to have some excitement.
      • I guess I wasn't really questioning their motivation so much as why it was disproportionately teenage girls...
  • by aggles ( 775392 )
    So what if you walk out of the store, and the alarm goes off, you know you aren't guilty, and just continue walking. What can the store do except ask you to stop and hope you do? Are there any laws against disobeying the order of a private security guard?
    • by raehl ( 609729 )
      No, but you might find yourself pulled over a few blocks down the road, or entertaining some friendly neighborhood officers at your home.
    • by Surt ( 22457 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @09:19PM (#16049433) Homepage Journal
      No consequences to you unless he places you under arrest. And then he and the store are both fucked in court when you bring false arrest charges.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Security_guard [wikipedia.org]

      Of particular interest:

      Security personnel are not police officers but are often confused with them due to similar uniforms and behaviors, especially on private property. Security personnel derive their powers not from the state, as public police officers do, but from a contractual arrangement that give them 'Agent of the Owner' powers. This includes a nearly unlimited power to question with the freedom of an absence of probable cause requirements that frequently dog public law enforcement officers. Additionally, as legal precedents have further restrained the traditional police officers' power of "officer discretion" regarding arrests in the field, requiring a police officer to arrest minor lawbreakers, private security personnel still enjoy such powers of discretion largely due to their private citizen status. Since the laws regarding the limitations of powers generally have to do with public law enforcement, private security is relatively free to utilize non-traditional means to protect and serve their clients' interests. This does not come without checks, however, as private security personnel do not enjoy the benefit of civil protection, as public law enforcement officers do, and can be sued directly for false arrests and illegal actions if they commit such acts. ...

      Except in these special cases, a security guard who misrepresents himself as a police officer is committing a crime. However, security personnel by their very nature often work in cooperation with police officials. Police are called in when a situation warrants a higher degree of authority to act upon reported observations of the security personnel that could not be directly acted upon safely by the security personnel.

  • I do not oppose RFID chips if they are used correctly.

    As long as the chip information is purged from their system once the return policy has been passed (like 90 day returns, whatever the store's policy), that's fine. They don't need to keep information in their system passed that.

    Maybe we need legislation introduced to make it illegal for any store to retain RFID-based information for more than 3 months once an item has been purchased.
  • In the dark (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Plutonite ( 999141 )
    I think stores should do all the freakish Big-Brother stuff they want to protect their valuable commodities, but people need to be informed. If the methods are effective, they will work whether people know or not (perhaps even better if they do)- if not, they will fail once a thief gets wind of the details.

    You can't get software security by hiding your code, and you can't get store security by keeping us in the dark.

    P.S on RFIDs, I just walked out of a library with an RFID tag that failed to register with t
  • "No one wants to tip off shoplifters or advertise that they suspect their customers."

    trying to catch someone is expensive, hard to do, error prone, and has a sizable civil risk.

    IT is far better to have people appoach suspects and talk to them, or just obviously follow them.

  • RFID "horror" story (Score:3, Interesting)

    by aelfwyne ( 262209 ) <lotheriusNO@SPAMaltername.net> on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @09:48PM (#16049565) Homepage
    My worst problem with this is, as others, when the RFID tags are not deactivated. In my case, it was a pair of shoes someone had bought me for a gift. Problem was, the tag wasn't deactivated. Additionally, the tag was BUILT INTO the shoes! Every time I entered and left a store wearing the shoes, it would set off the alarms. I had more than one overzealous doordude try to stop me. Eventually I got to where I would warn them before I even stepped through and hold my hands out so they could see I wasn't carrying anything. One refused to listen and tried to detain me - I told him to get his *@*## hands off me before I had to defend myself against unlawful detainment. He was furious, but I had already explained to him the situation, and he was too stupid to comprehend that a tag might be on something I OWN and not have been deactivated!

    Finally, when the shoes were completely worn out, I cut them up and found the tag. It was deep inside between two layers of cloth - it had to have been put in there at the factory.
  • by ovapositor ( 79434 ) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @10:27PM (#16049736) Homepage Journal
    I was doing some low voltage wiring repair at a high end lighting retailer. Turns out that their shrink was staggering before they simly installed some video cameras in the wharehouse. Some of them were not even functional, but you could not tell which. Their employee theft problem went away over night.
    The threat.. implied or real.. of watching employees is often enough to encourage desired behavior. It is a direct application of game theory.
  • Mostly a Strawman (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mdm42 ( 244204 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @03:06AM (#16050583) Homepage Journal
    For supermarket chains, the serious losses are not from shoplifting. The really serious theft is the entire truckloads of goods that never make it in the backdoor of the store, but that the chain ends-up paying for. These operations are usually operated by insiders, often reaching up to quite senior management levels, as full-time businesses-within-the-business.

    None of this tracking nonsense is going to make the slightest dent in that.

Heuristics are bug ridden by definition. If they didn't have bugs, then they'd be algorithms.

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