Scott Hardie | June 28, 2003
This has been making quite a bit of news lately, hasn't it? If you haven't heard, radio frequency identification chips are getting a push from Wal*Mart, which wants them installed on virtually every item on their shelves. Gillette is already installing them in their products, which will soon be on the market. Wal*Mart pioneered inventory control with the bar code, so it's natural for them to push forward with this. The device is a tiny microchip, smaller than a grain of rice, that can be built into virtually any item, to identify the item with a scanner. The upside is inventory control, since once they install a scanner in every aisle, Wal*Mart will instantly know how many of each item is in the store, and where it is in the store; that's got to make running the store a hell of a lot easier. The downside is limitations on privacy, since it's expected that customers will be able to buy items by scanning them and walking out (like FastPass and other systems now do at interstate toll plazas, letting you drive through with your chip and they charge your account fifty cents), and as a result Wal*Mart has information on everything you buy, which can be sold to anyone. There's talk of the retailer 'killing' the chip at check-out so that it can't be read any more, but I think most people understand that this is unlikely. I'd like to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Personally, I think the outcry over privacy is overblown in this case. So what if the chips will allow them to record data on what each person purchases? Conspiracy theorists already believe they do this with credit cards, so RFID can't be a big step for them, and (how do I put this?) "non-paranoid types" think it's absurd that anyone, even the government, would spend the money or man-hours developing and maintaining such a database when it has virtually no use outside of marketing, which can't pay for it. (I have a friend who is convinced the government listens to every phone call made in the United States. Think for a moment about exactly how many government employees it would take to listen to that many phone calls! And you can't record them all for later listening; how much storage capacity that would require!) Anyway, I have also heard that the devices could be used to constantly monitor your location, as though there's someone up there interested in doing that. It's a little absurd, since even the most advanced chip only has a scanning range of 25 feet, which means you'd have to take your RFID items out to retail marketplaces to get identified. Minority Report demonstrates how hard it is to avoid this, but I still doubt that RFID will be used to track people, first and foremost because I see no reason to track anyone except suspected criminals and missing persons, both of whom are tracked as much as possible with current technology already.

Anyway, there seems to be more people against RFID than for it, so there's got to be more to the issue. Speak up. (One of our authors is a retail store manager; I'd love to hear from him on this.)

Anna Gregoline | June 28, 2003
I think it sounds cool. They already track purchases in grocery stores if you use a discount card anyway - this seems little different.

Lori Lancaster | June 30, 2003
[hidden by request]

Dave Stoppenhagen | June 30, 2003
I received an email regarding this and checked with breakthechain.org and snopes.com (you can check most chain letters through at thes sites), 2 groups that check out chain letters for validity. Here is the snopes.com break down of the Article.


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