By Renee Boucher Ferguson  |  Posted 2006-11-08 Print this article Print

Currently RFID tags are used primarily at the case and pallet level to track goods along the supply chain. But there are numerous pilots in process that add RFID chips at the item level. Wal-Mart, which really kick-started the whole RFID revolution with its 2003 mandate that its top 100 suppliers RFID-tag items at the case and pallet level, is looking heavily into item-level tagging. And it has been for a while. In 2003 it (along with Tesco in Great Britain) worked with Gillette to implement RFID at the shelf level to secretly monitor customers. Shelf sensors triggered a hidden camera to take close-up photographs of consumers when they picked up a Mach3 razor package, according to a Boycott Gillette campaign waged by CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering). The "smart shelves" were pulled following consumer protests.
Levi Strauss & Co., one of the nations largest clothing manufacturers, confirmed in April that its testing RFID "hang tags" on clothing shipped to two retail outlets in Mexico and one in the United States—a move that many consumer advocates point to as an outright invasion of privacy rights given the tags will be attached to individual items consumers wear.
Levi is using RFID to track inventory at the test stores at the retailers requests; it has no plans to use RFID in any of its 18 Levis brand stores, according to Jeff Beckman, director of worldwide and U.S. communications for Levi Strauss, in San Francisco. "Our philosophy is that [RFID tests] are being driven by retailers," Beckman said in an April interview. "So future tests, whether it happens, is being driven by retailers, and only if they are consistent with guidelines [put forth by consumer privacy advocate group CASPIAN], which is very transparent." Click here to read more about Levis RFID tests. CASPIAN along with about 40 other privacy and civil liberties organizations published guidelines for using RFID at the item level that call for tags to be removed before they reach consumers. Others are also working on privacy guidelines that allow the tag to remain on purchased goods—if a consumer is informed of the tag and aware of its removal potential. Last May a working group led by the CDT (Center for Democracy & Technology), announced a set of RFID best practices to protect consumer privacy as it relates to item-level tagging. The group—IBM is the charter member—includes a whos who list of companies involved one way or another in RFID testing or software development, including: Microsoft, Intel, Cisco Systems, Proctor & Gamble, Eli Lilly and Co., American Library Association, National Consumers League, aQuantive, VeriSign and Visa. The CDT document outlines how consumers should be notified about RFID data collection, what choice they should have with respect to their own personal information, and how that information should be treated by companies that collect it. It also offers guidance to companies that collect RFID data in providing that information. At the same time EPCglobal developed guidelines for the "responsible use of electronic product code data," according to the organizations Web site. The guidelines suggest clear consumer notice of the presence of RFID tags on products; consumer choice to remove the tags; and consumer education about EPC and its applications. EPC is also working on a nationally recognized logo that would immediately alert consumers that an RFID tag is on a product. The question now, if RFID use at the item level persists, is who should be responsible for notifying and educating consumers about RFID technology and its potential risks? Moskowitz, who clearly represents the corporate interest, along with others in the industry, believes the onus for consumer education and notification is at the front end of the supply chain. "You have to put the option of privacy in the hands of the consumer, and that should come from retailers," said Moskowitz. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.


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