Thursday, January 20, 2005

Orwellian lives

There is new technology out there. It is setting the retail world on its head. It is being touted as the best thing to hit retailing. It will make the lives of everyone who comes in contact with it better, more streamlined and convenient. Walmart is leading the charge by insisting their suppliers "get with the program". What is it?

It is called RFID. Radio Frequency Identification Device. Big words. Bigger when you understand what they mean. Radio Frequency Identification tags are "live". They talk to satellites. They let suppliers know when their product is running low on the shelves of those they supply. This helps the supply chain, because a producer can pack in anticipation of an order being placed soon. It can even alert a retailer that his shelf is low. When a retailer receives products with RFID tags the product is scanned when it comes through the back door. It electronically does a count and verifies that the prodcut has been orderd and received. This information goes into the retailer's inventory management system and is electronically managed so they can ensure the product a consumer needs is in stock and available.

So what's the big deal? On time inventory management and control. Big deal. Except, that little radio frequency device doesn't turn itself off once it leaves the store. If privacy laws are not managed, a retailer or supplier can track the product to your home and actually see how long it takes you to use it up.

The California Grocers Association, Consumer Specialty Products Association and the Grocery Manufacturers of America feel that privacy laws already in place will protect consumers and no other laws need to be introduced to control the types of information that can be gleaned from an RFID tag.

While I understand the need to control inventories and meet consumer demand. However, I do not want anyone monitoring ANY product I have purchased and when or if I have disposed of said product. It is bad enough that I have a computer in my car that monitors how I drive it (so the dealership can see if I caused a warranty issue by hard driving or any number of other things). Current laws in California are in place that "prohibits any person or business fron using RFID tags on store products to collect information about a customer and from using RFID readers to collect personal information about people" (SB1834 passed California Legislature in April of 2004) unless certain conditions are met. Those conditions being that the information is provided by the customer in order to purchase or rent an item and that the information collected is the person executing the transaction. The law applies to retail establishments and libraries (yes libraries use RFID) . Also, while they cannot collect the personal info on you until you give it to them... they can still track that it is in your home with the transmitting device. So even if you got it as a gift, they know where that gold plated gezornemplat is!

We all need to be aware that there are computers out there monitoring every purchase we make if it is done with large corporations. Mom and Pop operations cannot use RFID information because, at this time, it is too expensive to benefit them or their customers. RFID compels me to shop local.