November 10, 2003
Scandal: Wal-Mart, P&G Involved in Secret
and Procter & Gamble conducted a secret RFID trial involving Oklahoma
consumers earlier this year, the Chicago Sun Times revealed on Sunday.
Customers who purchased P&G's Lipfinity brand lipstick at the Broken
Arrow Wal-Mart store between late March and mid-July unknowingly left
the store with live RFID tracking devices embedded in the packaging. Wal-Mart
had previously denied any consumer-level RFID testing in the United States.
what we've been saying all along," says Katherine Albrecht, Founder and
Director of Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering
(CASPIAN). "Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble and others have experimented
on shoppers with controversial spy chip technology and tried to cover
it up. Consumers and members of the press should be upset to learn that
they've been lied to."
Sun Times also reported that a live video camera trained on the shelf
allowed Procter & Gamble employees, sometimes hundreds of miles away,
to observe the Lipfinity display and consumers interacting with it.
trial is a perfect illustration of how easy it is to set up a secret RFID
infrastructure and use it to spy on people," says Albrecht. "The RFID
industry has been paying lip service to privacy concerns, calling for
notice, choice and control. But companies like P&G, Wal-Mart and Gillette
have already violated all three tenets when they thought nobody was looking.
This is exactly why we oppose item-level RFID tagging and have called
for mandatory labeling legislation."
The Lipfinity tests were conducted while Wal-Mart and Procter & Gamble were sponsors of the MIT Auto-ID Center, a consortium of over 100 corporations and government agencies founded in 1999. Auto-ID Center trials were overseen by a Board of Directors, which included both Wal-Mart and Procter & Gamble, along with the Uniform Code Council (UCC), the standards body that oversees the bar code. The UCC (along with EAN International) took over commercial functions from the Auto-ID center on November 1, 2003.
"Given the players, the Wal-Mart Lipfinity trial probably isn't an isolated
incident," says CASPIAN spokeswoman Liz McIntyre. "UCC and Auto-ID Center
documents suggest that other products, including Huggies baby wipes, Pantene
shampoo, Caress soap, Purina Dog Chow and Right Guard deodorant were also
slated for live RFID field trials. Coca Cola, Kraft, Kodak and Johnson
& Johnson products are also implicated. However, it may be difficult
for consumers to learn the extent of those trials in the current climate
of secrecy and denials."
to documentation provided below.)
of the Broken Arrow trial is only the latest scandal to hit the privacy
plagued RFID industry. Early this year, CASPIAN called for a worldwide
boycott of Italian clothing manufacturer Benetton when the company announced
plans to equip women's undergarments with live RFID tracking tags (see
This summer, CASPIAN uncovered an RFID-enabled Gillette "smart shelf"
in a Brockton, Massachusetts Wal-Mart and helped disclose Gillette's scheme
to secretly photograph consumers picking up Mach3 razor blades in UK Tesco
stores (see http://www.boycottgillette.com/spychips.html).
The group also revealed confidential industry plans to "pacify" consumers
and "neutralize opposition" in the hope that consumers will be "apathetic"
and "resign themselves to the inevitability" of RFID product tagging (see
encourages consumers to contact Wal-Mart, P&G and the UCC to voice
their opinion about the use of RFID spy chips in consumer products. Contact
information for these companies is provided on the group's RFID website
links to documents implicating other consumer products in item-level tagging
"The EPC Network, RFID
and data" at http://www.autoid.org/SC31/clr/200305_3822_UConnect%20I4.pdf
"EPC Field Test" at http://cryptome.org/rfid/field_test_nov02.pdf
"Lessons Learned in the Real World" (note, for
example, pages 25 & 26) at http://cryptome.org/rfid/rfid-field-test.pdf
Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering (CASPIAN) is a grass-roots
consumer group fighting retail surveillance schemes since 1999. With members
in all 50 U.S. states and over 20 nations across the globe, CASPIAN seeks
to educate consumers about marketing strategies that invade their privacy
and to encourage privacy-conscious shopping habits across the retail spectrum.
The Spychips website is a project of CASPIAN, Consumers
Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering.
© 2003-2007 Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre. All Rights Reserved.