FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 9, 2007
EXPRESS ADDRESSES RFID PEOPLE TRACKING PLANS
Promises Full Patent Review, Tracking Notice, and Chip-Free Option
The top brass at American Express, chagrined at the discovery of its
people tracking plans, met with CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket
Privacy Invasion and Numbering) last week to discuss the issue. One
outcome of the meeting was a promise by American Express to review its
entire patent portfolio and ensure that any people-tracking plans be
accompanied by language requiring consumer notice and consent.
The meeting was organized after CASPIAN called attention to one of the
company's more troublesome patent applications. That patent
application, titled "Method and System for Facilitating a Shopping
Experience," describes a Minority Report style blueprint for monitoring
consumers through RFID-enabled objects, like the American Express Blue
According to the patent, RFID readers called "consumer trackers" would
be placed in store shelving to pick up "consumer identification
signals" emitted by RFID-embedded objects carried by shoppers. These
would be used to identify people, track their movements, and observe
The patent also suggested such people-tracking systems could "be
located in a common area of a school, shopping center, bus station or
other place of public accommodation."
Allegations of American Express people-tracking blueprints first came
to light at a conference sponsored by the Consumer Federation of
America in Washington, D.C. last month. There, Dr. Katherine Albrecht,
Founder and Director of CASPIAN, revealed the patent pending plans that
she and her "Spychips" co-author Liz McIntyre uncovered in their
ongoing RFID research.
Soon thereafter, American Express arranged for four of its vice
presidents, including the vice presidents of Contactless Payments and
Public Affairs, to meet with CASPIAN leaders in a phone conference.
"We are pleased that American Express responded to our concerns," said
Albrecht. "It's clear the company is thinking about privacy issues and
wants to address them constructively. However, we had hoped that
American Express would renounce its people tracking plans altogether
and be more sensitive to the fact that placing RFID tags in consumer
items, like credit cards, puts consumers at risk for surreptitious
tracking by others."
In response to CASPIAN concerns, American Express also promised that it
would make a chip-free version of its credit card available to
concerned consumers who ask for it.
"Offering a chipless credit card is a positive step and should serve as
an example to the rest of the industry," said McIntyre. "Consumers
don't like RFID technology. Contrary to American Express ads, most
people would rather leave home without it."
The complete text and excerpts from the American Express people tracking patent
application can be found at:
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a controversial technology
that uses tiny microchips to track items from a distance. These RFID
microchips have earned the nickname "spychips" because each contains a
unique identification number, like a Social Security number for things,
that can be read silently and invisibly by radio waves.
CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering)
is a grass-roots consumer group fighting retail surveillance schemes
since 1999 and irresponsible RFID use since 2002. With thousands of
members in all 50 U.S. states and over 30 countries worldwide, CASPIAN
seeks to educate consumers about marketing strategies that invade their
privacy and encourage privacy-conscious shopping habits across the
To join or support CASPIAN or to sign up for our mailing list, please
ABOUT THE BOOK
"Spychips" is the winner of the 2006 Lysander Spooner Award for
Advancing the Literature of Liberty and has received wide critical
acclaim. Authored by recent Harvard graduate Dr. Katherine Albrecht and
former bank examiner Liz McIntyre, the book is meticulously researched.
"Spychips" draws on patent documents, corporate source materials,
conference proceedings, and firsthand interviews to paint a convincing
-- and frightening -- picture of the threat posed by RFID.
Despite its hundreds of footnotes and academic-level accuracy, the book
remains lively, readable, and hilarious, according to critics, who have
called it a "techno-thriller" and "a masterpiece of technocriticism."
"A chilling story about an emerging future in which spychips run amok
as Big Brother and Big Shopkeeper invade our privacy in unprecedented
- Chicago Tribune
"Paints a 1984-ish picture of how corporations would like to use RFID
tags to keep tabs on you."
- The Associated Press