FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 15, 2003
Marks & Spencer Moves Forward with
CASPIAN says, "M & S responsible, but
setting a dangerous precedent"
British retailer Marks & Spencer is setting
a dangerous precedent by moving forward with an RFID item-level tagging
trial, says CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and
Numbering). Starting this week, Marks & Spencer's High Wycombe store
will offer men's suits, shirts and ties carrying large lilac hang tags
that are equipped with RFID devices.
"We were impressed that Marks & Spencer contacted us several weeks
prior to the trial to discuss the privacy implications of the technology
and took many of our concerns into account," says CASPIAN Founder and
Director Katherine Albrecht. "Marks & Spencer is known for being very
conscientious when it comes to consumer issues so we were disappointed
that they chose to move ahead with the trial. While they are acting far
more responsibly with the technology than we would have anticipated, our
concern is that it might encourage less responsible organizations to begin
RFID tagging of consumer goods."
Albrecht points out that Marks & Spencer is a socially responsible
retailer that goes out of its way to consider consumer and environmental
issues when setting policies. For example, Marks & Spencer only uses
free-range eggs in its food products, and they decided to stop selling
genetically modified food when the biotech industry couldn't prove that
the benefits outweighed any risks.
"We are hopeful that Marks & Spencer will also decide to discontinue
RFID item-level tagging in the same spirit," says Albrecht. "But they
have devoted much thought to how they are using RFID, and they fully acknowledge
the risks involved."
There are several ways Marks & Spencer is making their trial as privacy
friendly as possible:
are not hiding or embedding RFID devices in clothing. The devices are
incorporated into conspicuous hang tags that are clearly labeled as
being RFID enabled.
will be given the option to have the tags clipped off at the point of
will not lose any benefits if they decide to have the tags removed,
such as the right to return purchases under the retailer's generous
return policy.Customers will not be forced to pay a premium or be subject
to any inconvenience to have the tags clipped off.
will be no active RFID reader devices in the store during normal business
hours so consumers will not be subjected to the potential health effects
of the electromagnetic radiation the readers emit. The RFID readers
will be rolled into the sales area after hours for inventory purposes.
reader devices will not be used at the point of sale. This detail is
crucial, as it means that unique RFID item numbers will not be captured
and linked with customer information.
Marks & Spencer has taken steps to protect consumer privacy, Albrecht
fears that other retailers like Wal-Mart, Asda, Tesco and Target will
not be so careful with their implementation of the technology. "Many stores
won't even acknowledge their RFID trials much less give consumers proper
notice." She points to the example of UK retailer Tesco's use of "smart
shelves" to secretly photograph consumers who picked up RFID-tagged Gillette
Mach3 razor blades.
"We stand firm in our opposition to item-level RFID tagging of consumer
products and encourage consumers not to purchase them. But we do want
to recognize Marks & Spencer's responsible attitude toward the trial.
Other retailers have simply chosen to ignore the serious privacy and health
concerns of their customers," says Albrecht. "We are still hopeful that
Marks & Spencer will decide to drop RFID item-level tagging plans
as a matter of principle, just as they dropped GM produce."