The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Big Brother cracking down with RFID chips tracking products

By John Mayfield/reporter

   Buyer beware, or maybe not.
   Most shoppers are familiar with security cameras following their movement or receipt-printed coupons that follow their shopping excursions, but a new technology aims to fill both roles for retail stores.
   This new technology, Radio Frequency Identification, is currently in use by stores such as Wal-Mart and companies like Gillette.
   Presently, the RFID chips found in retail merchandise range from the size of a postage stamp down to the size of a pencil tip. According to a press release from Texas Instruments, the world’s largest producer of RFID technology, a working RFID model had been created at a size smaller than a grain of sand.
   The RFID works as a tracking device that not only transmits the location of the chip but also the person who purchased the product containing the chip.
   The original application for RFID technology was to be an improvement on the barcode. Instead of having to wait until a shipment arrived to scan the barcodes, a company could track its shipments from the time they left the warehouse to make sure everything ordered is on the truck.
   The technology was also intended for use in hospitals for faster location and identification of medicines. This device would presumably save time on the operating table and make it easier for patients to purchase their prescriptions.
   However, an anti-RFID movement has started not only in America, the birthplace of the technology, but all over the world.
   Many fear the inclusion of powerful tracking devices in their everyday lives and the uncertainty of who might be tracking the RFID chips.
   The government currently has plans for the implementation of the RFID technology in passports, driver’s licenses and military and civilian firearms.
   Wal-Mart has issued press releases stating, “All product-imbedded RFID chips will be switched off once the product leaves the store.”
   However, the detractors of the RFID technology believe this promise is not enough.
   The leaders of the anti-RFID push in America include Liz McIntyre and Katherine Albrecht, authors of Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID.
   The problem McIntyre and Albrecht present is that major corporations like Wal-Mart use RFID technology for item level tagging, meaning that each individual item contains a RFID chip.
   The two authors were present at an anti-RFID protest in November outside of a Wal-Mart in Bedford, where they issued a statement.
   “ Wal-Mart’s item-level RFID tagging initiative is dangerous and irresponsible … 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,” the release stated.
   The statement also included promotional literature for the possibilities of RFID technology from National Cash Register Company, which laid out plans for retail shelves that would change the price of products depending on who approached the product.
   Wal-Mart and other large corporations have a battle on their hands from privacy advocates; however, they also have the support of many of the technophiles.
   One of these supporters is Dave Mathews, a Dallas resident and “tech guy” who attended the Bedford protest to offer the other side of the RFID debate for the television news crews.
   “ The RFID technology can help hospitals save lives and companies save money,” he said in interview with WFAA-Channel 8. “RFID in its current incarnation is harmless; they’re just not powerful enough to track you. The whole idea is just ridiculous.”

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