A consumer-privacy advocate says the nation’s largest shaving-products manufacturer, in conjunction with an umbrella research group, is developing “smart shelf” in-store technology that not only tracks products but also builds an identity profile of the consumer doing the buying.
Close-up of RFID tag.
According to published reports, the technology in question – Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID – uses a microchip with an antenna capable of sending out a signal that enables a computer to “see” the product. As WorldNetDaily has reported, RFID technology is being considered for use by companies such as Wal-Mart to track inventory in distribution centers.
Shaving-products maker Gillette and Wal-Mart had agreed to employ the smart-shelf technology at one of the retailer’s stores in Brockton, Mass., this summer. The Gillette products would be equipped with tiny RFID chips that sent a radio signal to store personnel, alerting them when in-store stocks of merchandise were near empty. Wal-Mart, however, has decided not to use smart shelf for the time being.
But Katherine Albrecht, founder and director of Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering, or CASPIAN, says Gillette is getting ready to deploy the technology, which is being championed by the AutoID Center, on its products. And she says there is more involved than meets the eye.
Not only will the technology provide store managers with real-time in-store stock figures for Gillette products, but – via small cameras – it will also snap a picture of the consumer taking the product off the shelf, she told WorldNetDaily.
From that point, Albrecht said in a wide-ranging interview, “a reader device at the check-out also reads the presence of the chip and takes a second picture of that [consumer].”
Then, at the end of the day, “these pictures … are all printed out, and security sits down and goes through them, making sure that the person who picked up that Gillette product from the shelf actually paid for it at the check stand,” she said.
“If they see any pictures where ‘Camera A’ took a picture but ‘Camera B’ did not take a picture of the payment, then that person’s picture is blown up and becomes a sort of mug shot,” she told WorldNetDaily. “And then the stores will have security personnel on the lookout for that person, I’m assuming through observation. If that person is spotted again, they are put under surveillance for their entire shopping trip.”
In essence, Albrecht concluded, consumers will be guilty until proven innocent – even if all the shopper did was change his or her mind and set the product down in a different part of the store – and everyone will be photographed, under the guise of “security.”
Information posted on the AutoID website gives an indication of the group’s grand plans. The center, in combination with 100 global companies and five universities around the world, have formed a “unique partnership” in hopes of “creating the standards and assembling the building blocks needed to create an ‘Internet of things.'”
“Put a tag … on a can of Coke or a car axle, and suddenly a computer can ‘see’ it. Put tags on every can of Coke and every car axle, and suddenly the world changes,” says a description of the group posted on the center’s website. “No more inventory counts. No more lost or misdirected shipments. No more guessing how much material is in the supply chain – or how much product is on the store shelves.
“Auto-ID Center is designing, building, testing and deploying a global infrastructure – a layer on top of the Internet – that will make it possible for computers to identify any object anywhere in the world instantly,” said the description.
The center is attempting to develop standards that can identify products regardless of which company tags them.
Involved in the research is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the U.S.; the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom; the University of Adelaide in Australia; Keio University in Japan; and the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland.
“Phase one, two and three testing has been completed, and now they’re moving on to phase four,” or deployment, Albrecht said.
In the first phase, developers were just making sure the technology actually worked. In phase two, the RFID technology was placed on warehouse pallets and crates, so companies could track inventory. Phase three, she says, is placing the technology on products.
The Economist, a Britain-based financial magazine, reported in February that smart shelf technology has been deployed on store shelves in Cambridge, England.
And in January, the magazine reported, “Gillette announced that it had put in an order for half a billion smart tags, signaling the start of their adoption by the consumer-goods industry.
“If they catch on, smart tags will soon be made in their trillions and will replace the bar-code on the packaging of almost everything that consumer-goods giants such as Procter & Gamble and Unilever make,” said the magazine’s report, which also said Gillette was buying its tags from a company called Alien Technology.
“Once you begin to track products, you begin to track people,” Albrecht told WorldNetDaily.
Gillette could not be reached for comment.
The consumer-privacy advocate said some companies have expressed an interest in very elaborate tracking systems. She said such systems would photograph consumers and superimpose their pictures with an itemized receipt of goods purchased, along with any other credit card or related information that will help identify the person. With the photo identification aspect, even consumers who pay cash could be later identified.
“This technology is already out there,” Albrecht said. “Eventually, I fear it can and will be made available to law enforcement.”