RFID and Big Brother: Who’s Watching?

Ever since the advent of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, skeptics have thought that “big brother” was coming, while proponents argued that the technology has more benefits than harm. Now, with Wal-Mart about to implement a new ID-based inventory tracking system, privacy concerns have become elevated.

Wal-Mart plans on placing removable RFID tags on individual garments that will allow workers to quickly determine which sizes are missing, etc., to ensure that shelves are stocked and inventory is tightly tracked.

From a supply chain perspective, this sounds like a great idea, but for those who are concerned with privacy, it is worrisome. Although tags can be removed from the garments, they can’t be turned off and are easily traceable. Potentially, marketers or criminals could track where consumers live, even scan their garbage to discover what had been recently purchased.

Previously, I had discussed how certain states are adopting RFID licenses. With Wal-Mart’s new technology, retailers would be able to scan those customers’ ID’s without them ever finding out. In theory, retailers could scan the RFID enabled licenses as customers make purchases, combine the information with their credit card data, and then know their identity.

Proponents dismiss these concerns, and Wal-Mart is asking that suppliers use only removable labels, rather than embedding tags in the clothes themselves, to dismiss concerns on being able to track every action of a consumer.

As someone in the Auto-ID industry, I think that this is a step in the right direction for Wal-Mart, and I’m sure other retailers will follow suite. However, if you have a different opinion about RFID in clothing and other personal items, we’d love to hear it. Let us know by commenting here, or on our Facebook page.