FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 20, 2005
WAL-MART HAMMERED FOR CONTROVERSIAL USE
OF NEW TECHNOLOGY
Dozens Descend on Dallas Store to Protest RFID "Spychips"
More than 70 Texans converged on a Dallas Wal-Mart Supercenter this past
Saturday to protest the store's RFID tagging of consumer products. Armed
with anti-RFID signs and singing "We don't like the looks of spychips
sittin' in this Wal-Mart store," the group worked the sidewalk adjacent
to the store's parking lot, handing out literature to passersby and waving
to drivers who honked in support of their stand.
The protest, organized by the consumer privacy group CASPIAN, was sparked
by Wal-Mart's use of RFID tags on Hewlett-Packard printer/scanners being
sold in its stores. Placing RFID tags on individual consumer items, a
practice known as "item-level tagging," has been widely condemned by privacy
experts since 2003. Wal-Mart's use of RFID on these items disregards the
of over 40 of the world's leading privacy and civil liberties organizations
who have called on retailers to voluntarily abstain from the practice.
"Wal-Mart's item-level RFID tagging initiative is dangerous and irresponsible.
And it's especially worrisome when you consider who Wal-Mart's business
partners are," said Katherine Albrecht, founder of CASPIAN and co-author
of the bestselling book "Spychips:
How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with
She points to patent documents and promotional communications that she
and co-author Liz McIntyre uncovered when doing research for their book.
"We discovered that Wal-mart's partners -- companies like NCR, IBM, Sensormatic,
and Procter & Gamble -- have developed extensive plans to monitor
and track people and exploit them commercially through RFID tags in the
things they buy," Albrecht said.
"These companies are working with Wal-Mart to place RFID tags into all
consumer products. This will make objects -- and the people wearing and
carrying them -- remotely trackable. We have rock-solid evidence that
they are already devising ways to exploit that potential," she added.
Albrecht cites NCR -- with millions of dollars of point-of-sale scanning
equipment installed in Wal-Mart stores nationwide -- as just one example.
According to its own promotional literature, NCR has plans for retail
store shelves that will change prices depending upon who approaches, pan
and tilt cameras that will follow individual shoppers for the duration
of their shopping trips, and RFID readers embedded in the store environment
to individually identify and track shoppers everywhere they go, from the
parking lot to the snack bar.
"This is not mere conjecture. These companies have laid out plans for
a nightmarish world of total surveillance, and they've described these
plans in their own words. If item-level RFID is not stopped now, Wal-Mart
stores could soon become retail zoos, with customers as the closely watched
exhibits," warns Albrecht. "And other public spaces will soon follow."
Wal-Mart has repeatedly denied that item-level RFID tagging poses a privacy
risk, though the company was clearly concerned that discussion of its
RFID plans could hurt sales. A spokesperson issued a statement last week
intended to pacify consumers. "Safety is always a top priority for us
and customers should not have any concerns about shopping this weekend
at our stores," she said.
Albrecht remained unconvinced, however. "If customers' safety and privacy
were top priorities, Wal-Mart would confront its partners on their invasive
plans and put an end to item-level tagging. But instead of thinking 'maybe
we are deploying a technology that has real risks attached,' they seem
to be asking themselves 'How can we get this past people?' "
The Texas protesters who turned out on Saturday are not alone in their
concerns over RFID. Studies show that the majority of consumers oppose
RFID technology on privacy grounds.
PHOTOS AVAILABLE ONLINE
Photos of the Wal-Mart protest:
Photos showing Wal-Mart's in-store use of RFID: