Walmart

Wrap Your Heads in Tin Foil, the Razors are Attacking!

|

Of all the things to get hyper about, worrying that Wal-Mart and Gillette will use inventory management tracking tags to spy on you seems pretty far down the list.

Truth is, if you belong to one of those "bonus card" programs, They—you know the ones—already know what you buy, when, and how much of it. Paying with some sort of credit or debit card also generates a paper trail that could allow some gnome somewhere to find out that yes, you do, on occasion, shave some part of your body.

Wal-Mart, an absolute world leader in gathering info on what it sells, which just might explain why it is the world's largest company, has backed off using the tags on its retail shelves. The company's warehouse automation will no doubt continue apace. But Wal-Mart hasn't been entirely forthright in why it wants the tags, it seems. Cutting down on employee theft has to be a major attraction of such technology, although to say so too loudly probably isn't a smooth move.

Here's hoping the tracking tags make it to retail stores sooner or later. If it helps keep shelves stocked and lowers prices, who cares if the world knows I'm a sucker for 2-for-1s on Charmin?

Advertisement

NEXT: Smile When You Say That

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Here’s how to make an aluminum-foil shopping bag:

    1) Go to the fabric store or Wal-Mart and buy one yard (45″ wide or wider) fabric of your choice (medium weight cotton or cotton/poly blend) and enough lightweight fusible (iron-on) craft film to cover it completely (ask for “heat-n-bond ™”). Don’t worry, custom cut fabric can’t contain concealed tracking devices.

    2). Wash your fabric in plain detergent and preshrink in the dryer. Carefully iron on the fusible film to cover the back of the fabric. Peel off the film backing and carefully fuse aluminum foil to cover the fabric (foil will get hot quick). The foil will not hurt your iron. Overlap the foil edges a little (don’t leave gaps).

    3) Use the fused fabric stack as if it was one piece of fabric to machine-sew a simple tote/bookbag. There are some simple free patterns online that you can use as guides.

    Remember to use the fabric side out if you do not want to advertise the fact that you are carrying a foil-lined bag.

  2. Did I write that? God, I feel like a Yippee. LOL

  3. Jimmy Antley, a polite and gracious liberal (but aren’t they all?), informs us Our Government can track its citizens with amazing technical precision. But I strongly suspect there are other matters on which he believes Our Government is comprised of morons. I wonder if it’s possible for Our same Government to be comprised of geniuses and morons simultaneously.

    He also informs us 1985 is an era of great freedom, but that we are now living in 1984. I’m not a math major or quantum physicist, but I cannot reproduce this calculation, nor can I understand how, if 1985 is next year (1984 being today), and 1985 is more free than today, we are not heading down the path of greater freedom after all!

    According to Mr Antley, Wal-Mart is actually the harbinger of great liberty! Huzzah!

  4. I constructed my cap using Reynolds aluminum wrap, but am concerned because it isn’t machine washable and we know that the HAARP waves penetrate through any gaps or breaks in the tinfoil hat, as might occur in the spin cycle. Speedwell, is your option dry-clean only, as well?

  5. Rex,

    The read-write RFID tags are going to be more expensive than the kind Wal Mart wants to use to track inventory. This is a different application of the technology. I agree it’s disturbing to put it in cash directly, giving the GOVERNMENT the ability to track your financial transactions. I also agree that it is prudent for people to think about the applications of the technology and whether or not it can be or will be used for nefarious purposes. My point was basically that it is ill suited to the purpose people are afraid it will be used for (by the likes of WalMart) and that the specific fears of the ‘industry watchdog’ groups and privacy groups are unfounded on this particular application.

    BTW, I doubt putting RFID tags on money would really reduce crime. Presumably, for this to work, every vendor that takes money will have to have the means available to write to the RFID chip. At some point the memory is going to be full and it will start overwriting. All you’d have to do to launder the money is own the (extrememly common) equipment to register a transaction and fill it with bogus data. Even if they develop more sophisticated algorithms that make this harder, someone will find a way around it – if it can in fact be changed, someone will find a way to change it. It’s like the encryption coding developed by the record companies to keep you from copying DVDs – sooner or later a hacker will find a way around it.

    Also, if you are actually going to use it for illegal purchases, the money is still good whether it is scanned or not (unlike a credit card which must be processed through the credit card company who then has a record of the transaction). Better yet, you’ve got a built in money laundering method – just use the encoder to put on a bogus transaction and ‘prove’ it’s not from illegal activity (you just paid for $300.00 in landscape services or housecleaning services instead of a baggie of pot. Perfect examples because there’s no tangible property that can be traced to prove or disprove whether the service was actually performed).

  6. Jim,

    “you just paid for $300.00 in landscape services or housecleaning services instead of a baggie of pot…)”

    That must be some baggie =)

    Seriously, tho – it’s my understanding that, like while the normal applications use a low-power radio wave to energize the RFID tag & return the info within a short range, I was under the impression that there’s nothing stopping someone from just broadcasting a more powerful signal.

    I’m not super-worried, but scenerios come to mind – say, a company has it’s master list of codes stolen, so a quick cruise through a neighborhood could show who’s got some nice 60″ plasma TVs, ready for the stealing. Or, if they end up in money, how about just a nice cruise around to see who’s got a lot of cash on them =) Drive-by muggings!

  7. It’s bad enough Pat violates an implied contract by providing deliberately inaccurate information on his (her?) loyalty card. But I’ll bet he/she also tapes prime-time shows and fast forwards through commercials, thus violating the implied contract by which you get free broadcast TV in return for watching all the commercials. I’m sick and tired of all this rampant virtual theft of fictitious property rights!

  8. Kevin,

    Actually the contract with Kroger goes beyond implied, it is explicit. What he’s has done is criminal pure and simple. He’s on par with p2p fileswappers and people who take multiple papers from the newspaper box while paying for only one. We here at Kroger are disgusted and will be on the lookout for any Cameltoes entering our store.

    Who would have thought that contract law could be flouted like this. Contrary to popular thought that contract law would restore order should copyright law be abolished, it seems that it would serve as nothing more than a single sheet of generic 1-ply toilet paper against the violently propelled onsnaught that is anarchy. Heavens.

  9. Uh, yeah, “People Are Funny”, 1984 is the name of a book by George Orwell. If you had gone to a non-government operated school, you would have know that factoid (a “factual hemorroid”, something else we learned in real school ;-}

    What makes you think I believe are gov’t is composed of geniuses? You are only right about the “morons” part, so I’m glad we can agree on something.

    It does not take a genius to pick things they are interested in from a database or to enter things into one, i.e. the guy at the motel.

    Oh yeah, not a thing was said by me about Wal-Mart being a “harbinger of any fucking thing”. I just said that warehouse, transportation, and in-store logistics can be made way more effecient when things don’t have to be scanned visually by a bar-code reader. For instance, items on a conveyor belt can be read with no stoppage of motion. Items can be dispensed, in ways not yet thought of, from warehouse shelves to outbound conveyors with no human work (as in “picking”). Inventory can be done automatically without as much error. Items that are already in boxes can still be scanned to do error checking as they leave the warehouse.

    Anything else you want to know about RFID tags? Go to the MIT.edu “autoID lab” web site.

    Oh yeah, and Pat is a guy! – the cat’s out of the bag. How did I know that? A friend of mine told me, who just happens to by a Unix SysAdmin at Kroger HQ here in East Bumfuck, NJ.

  10. oops, said “are government”, S/B “our gummint”, maybe that one year at the compulsory gummint skool put me in a wurld of hert, as fur as spelin gos, butt my gramer kiks ass ;-}

  11. Jimmy, you’re funny. You remind me why I love Ann Coulter so much. It takes such tiny peas to disturb such leftist ideological princesses.

    I actually read Orwell’s 1984 twenty years ago, as well as Animal Farm and more recently, Hitchens’ book on their author. You need to be careful whom you insult. You’re so touchy, you didn’t even see the humor. I can probably say just about anything and make you howl. Combined with the impolite language, such behavior can reflect poorly on the participant among some quarters, mooting the argument, no matter how correct it might be.

    But your argument about the evils of efficiency is the same one Osama bin, uh, I mean, John Ashcroft and the RIAA currently use against Napster. I love it when one ideology can’t be distinguished from the other.

  12. Well, People bin Funny, I really don’t understand why you think I am left-wing in my views. Maybe that is a joke. Ok … I guess I get it, uh, yeah … heh, heh.

    How did you read George Orwell’s book when it wasn’t even 1984 yet 20 year’s ago? I just said that to illustrate how lame your other joke was ;-} See, muchas lamo, amigo, muchas lamo.

    Sorry about the language, though.

    Also, Ann Coulter is not left-wing. I think you’re mis-interpreting left-wing as asinine. Lefties are mostly asinine, but asinine people are not all leftwing. Plus, I’m not a liberal either (your other post) except in the classical sense, now called libertarian with a big-ass EL.

    “I love it when one ideology can’t be distinguished from the other.” Well, I don’t love it when I can’t figure out what in the living h__l you are talking about. How did you turn a discussion about warehouse logistics into a political argument?

  13. One more thing Mr. AreFunny. What’s this one: “… your argument about the evils of efficiency …” mean?

    I just said that the logistics in warehousing, transportation, etc. can be improved greatly via use of these types of tags. Does this compute?

    Hello, McFly?? HAL … HAL … what are you doing HAL? (“Daisy, daisy, give me your answer, do. I’m so crazy, just for the love of you. ……. da, da da da, dit-da daaaa, dit-dah, dit-dah, on a bicycle built for two”) Tell me the movie and I promise not to call you a dumb-ass anymore.

    I reallllyyy gotta go …

  14. I’m not even going to bother to read how someone came up with the idea that Ann Coulter is left-wing.

  15. Maybe I am missing something, but don’t stores already use little tags that send out some signal to the detectors at the door? They don’t say “I’m a gilette razor” but they do say “I am a piece of merchandise”. Unless they somehow manufacture the tag inside the razor blade itself, can you just peel the tag off the box if you were so inclined?

  16. About those discount cards…once I bought a tube of canker sore medicine for a friend (really!) and used my card, and two months letter I got a shiny, 6×8″ postcard in the mail shouting “CANKER SORES GOT YOU DOWN?!” or some such.

    That was it. I threw away my card and signed up under a false name and address. If there’s a Pat Cameltoe in Souix Falls, SD, he’s probably getting lots of embarrassing mail about canker sores and tampons.

    F*ck you, Kroger’s.

  17. I see these “smart chips” as fine if and only if the consumer is made aware of them. No, I don’t care if Wal-Mart knows that I live at my address and prefer the Mach 3 razor, but I might care if they know about other details of my private life, especially if they haven’t informed me that they’re tracking such details.

  18. Does this mean that we will eventually have a national “do not track” list?

  19. Jeff, Yay for universal surveillance!

    RFID tags can be sewn into the seams of a pair of trousers–it’s not just a case of peeling them off the merchandise and matching RFID data to credit card or cash is trivial.

    I’m reaching for my tin foil hat–and buying another roll of Reynold’s Wrap to wrap up all my stuff.

  20. OK, maybe I’m missing something. I feel slammed by Mr. Taylor. I’m sorry, but I’ve alsways been told I am fairly rational. The thought of the things I buy being equipped with tracking “bugs” really freaks me out. I normally don’t consider myself paramoid, but this kind of crap could make one of the timfoil crowd. Will we come to a day, as in John Brunners “Shockwave Rider” in which we brag about having the most monitered society? Will we be commenting and bragging of the benifits of one “bug” over another. We’ll maybe you, not me, I’ll be outta here long before that happens, seeking warmer and more human conditions. Jeez man, that makes my skin crawl, I don’t like “bugs” hiding in my stuff. The biological or the mechanical.

  21. I once was selected to be a Neilson (or analog) family, where they would measure how much I watch the TV I don’t have, but also give me a wand to scan whatever I purchase. When I informed them all I buy are condoms and ammunition, I think they found another household.

    In reality, there is no reason why I can’t tell the world how my experience was at Mal-Wart. So why can’t they tell the world how their experience was with me? The good part is that with cash, I can be annonymous. I’ve even gotten people in line behind me to let me use their cards for the discounts, since they earn free turkeys for spending volume, that is increased with my added purchases.

  22. Wouldn’t running a magnet over them scramble the chips and make them untrackable?

  23. Anon @ 10:00,

    Our records indicate an abnormal level of Reynold’s wrap consumption; would you mind coming down to the station to answer a few questions?

  24. I don’t know about a magnet, but I am certain that there is some simple way to erase them, fill them, or code whatever you want on them, if you can encode information on them with a scanner of some sort. People can do this with credit cards, or with DirecTV smart cards, and beat the system. Why would these new tags be any different?

  25. The chips are made by Alien Technology Corp. They are looking at putting a plant in Fargo. Here’s a link to a news release from North Dakota State University:

    http://www.ndsu.edu/university_relations/news/wmview.php
    ?ArtID=1089

    The local paper had an article as well. It showed a picture of the chip next to an ant’s head or something like that. I don’t have anything approaching the motivation to find their article, but I’m sure its available at http://www.in-forum.com

  26. Wal-Mart and Gillette were driving the next tech boom until these busybody Luddites cut them down.

    Currently, RFID chips are manufactured for $.40 – $.50 a pop. Market leaders are a couple of boutique manufacturers and Texas Instruments. Intel doesn’t touch this product line; I think Motorola is only a bit player.

    Wal-Mart hopes for $.05 manufacturing cost within 3-5 years or so in order to adopt at the product package level (instead of the shipping pallet level) – the test market case described in the article being a research cost. And by demanding their suppliers to sign up, they’re creating a deep market for the technology. And since the end user is really the one pushing the advances, it’s going to arrive as a commodity.

    Beautiful. Wal-Mart continues to boost American productivity by shaving margins. Absolutely beautiful.

  27. I think y’all might be missing the concept of these Radio Id tags (see MIT autoID lab website, as they are the ones doing the most work on this technology).

    Think of a replacement for bar-codes. With these tags, items do not have to be scanned in the warehouse, inventory can eventually be done totally without human effort, and lots of other cool things. Preventing theft is a benefit, but the savings in efficiency improvements in logistics is the big deal about these.

    These tags have a very low power output and therefore range (a few feet). This is because they have no power source. An electrical field used to send a unique code for each item (96 bits, I believe) is induced in the tag by the “reader”, which is more expensive. The tags will eventually get down in price to pennies/per. Otherwise, it won’t catch on.

    So, fears about someone driving by your house and reading what all products you have on you shelves, etc. are unfounded, at least the way these things work, anyhoo.

    As for Pat Cameltoe, don’t try to patent the idea about giving false info. to the grocery store for your “saver code”. Who in his right mind gives them the correct name and address?? In fact, when I leave mine at home, and they say “Hey, you can just mash in your phone #”, I’m like “I wish I could remember the one I made up” Then, they just swipe the nearest extra card on hand to get me through the line without Trouble.

  28. The 1000 sheet Scott is a better buy and it lasts forever.

  29. Pat Cameltoe,

    But doesn’t that mean you are violating the contract contained in the form, by giving false info? And there’s no reprecussion? How is this possible? Has the world gone mad?

  30. And of course, as each post hits the web, an electronic trail to each of your computers only lengthens. That thump-thump sound you hear really are black helicopters over your house.

  31. Pat Cameltoe,

    After consulting with legal on this, we have decided that you are stealing by accepting the discounts without revealing true and accurate personal info. What’s next? Illegally downloading music? You are hereby banned from Kroger’s. We will soon be buying off a congressman or two to make this type of behavior a jailable offense.

  32. This actually seems to be really common. I even had a check-out clerk suggest to the woman behind me in line that she loan me her tag momentarily, which of course she was pleased to do. *shrugs* No one’s in a position to complain, I guess.

    >>I’ve even gotten people in line behind me to let me use their cards for the discounts, since they earn free turkeys for spending volume, that is increased with my added purchases.

  33. Radio Shack is notorious for this sort of prchase-tracking. They always ask for your address whenever you buy anything, even batteries. If you ask why, they say it’s for their catalog mailing list. I know of no one who has ever recieved a Radio Shack catalog, how about any of you? What I *have* heard of is the FBI tracking back bomb parts to Radio Shack customers ( not that they don’t deserve criminal punishment). I just give them fake information out of spite. I suppose I could give them the name of someone I didn’t like and then use it in a bomb, right? What’s the point if they don’t check ID. Maybe I’ll just use the name Ted Kazinski from now on…or give them John Ashcroft’s address, which I’m sure is available online somewhere….

  34. Could be a fun trick to get a bunch of tags and put them on flies, ants ect. Let them wander around the checkout lanes causing havoc

  35. Jim Antley is the only poser here apparently who has taken the time to figure out how these things actually work. I’m familiar with this technology because we use it in car keys. Probably lots of people out there have them, and don’t even realize it. In many newer cars, equipped with the alarm or antitheft option at the factory, won’t start unless the right RFID code is returned from the key. The actual mechanical coding of the key is almost a formality. And, as Jim correctly pointed out, they only give information from a few feet away and are externally powered. No one is tracking people by their car keys.

    It’s basically a better mousetrap for bar codes and gives some automation benefits (like automatically reporting shortages). They are coded at the factory and can’t be erased. Since the goal of the manufacturer is inventory tracking, they only contain the SKU number of the product. No one is going to be able to tell that you are customer X because you’re wearing the jeans you bought with your assigned number when you enter the store. Even if they checked, they would only know it’s one of the millions of customers who bought that particular product. Who cares? As others have pointed out, they can already track individual customers by credit card or discount card use. The Meijer’s and Kroger’s I shop at apparently already do this, by offering coupons for certain goods I purchase a lot when I’m at the cash register. I’ve never received any junk mail from either of them, because I never gave them my address, they just know that credit card X was used to purchase product Y. This is not fundamentally different from someone at a store recognizing you personally and offering you a discount on something because you are a regular customer. Hardly a huge invasion of privacy here.

    Could this technology be used to track individuals? Probably, if they went to enough trouble. You’d have to have unique codes programmed into every chip (as opposed to one bar code number) and then the store would have to store those numbers in a database linked to your credit card number or discount card number (if you have one of those you’ve implicitly agreed to share information about yourself with the store in exchange for the discout). It would only make sense to use the technology in this way on clothing or purses or something else you’re likely to have on you in the store. Since you probably don’t wear the same outfit every day, then they’d have to track every item of clothing you buy and it still wouldn’t work if you wore clothing purchased somewhere else. Then, you’d have to get close to some type of reader (within a foot or so) as you enter the store. At that point, what would be the benefit? So now they know YOU are in the store. Chances are though you will be using one of your credit or bank cards or discount cards when you check out so they’d have that information then, the very piece they would need in order to make this work in the first place. Not a whole lot of benefit to be gained here. Point is, stores are trying to use this technology to track product, not people.

    This whole issue is like irradiated foods – another promising technology that was politically killed by angry loudmouthed folks who didn’t even understand the technology they were opposed to.

  36. Jim:I don’t pretend to know all the details or potential of this new technology, but apparently some of these RFID tags CAN be rewritten on the fly-having new information added to them, according to this article in EETimes, linked above:http://www.eetimes.com/story/OEG20011219S0016
    from the article:

    “In theory, an RFID tag’s ability to read and write information to a bank note could make it very difficult, for example, for kidnappers to ask for “unmarked” bills. Further, a tag would give governments and law enforcement agencies a means to literally “follow the money” in illegal transactions.

    “The RFID allows money to carry its own history,” by recording information about where it has been, said Paul Saffo, director of Institute for the Future (Menlo Park, Calif.). ”

    I don’t think a product’s history, or where it has been, can be encoded at the factory. But it could be scanned when people walk through doorways, passing a foot or two from a scanner. If you think there is a low likelihood of “Them” tracing your wallet, shoes, and blue jeans, etc, cross-referencing them and getting an identity on you, and using that info for some nefarious purpose, fine. But isn’t it POSSIBLE? What’s wrong with considering the ramifications?

  37. This thread is hilarious. We live in a world where everyone has their own blog, posting every detail about their life online, or a cellphone, announcing every detail of their love life in the middle of their favorite Starbuck’s, but then come to reason.com to complain about potential privacy violations (of the BUSH = NAZI / JOHN ASHCROFT = OBL kind, natch). I love it when moonbats attack. It brightens one’s day.

  38. Rex, I see you were answering the second Jim – I go by Jimmy most times anyway. But in answer to your post.

    I would indeed be worried if dollar bills (or most likely twenties) start having these tags in them. This is not possible now, but it will be. I like to use cash a lot, as I also don’t want people (i.e. the gummint) tracking my every move. If this were to transpire, I would have to consider using coins only, as much as Susan B. Anthony and Sacajawae coins piss me off. I guess I could just carry around a lot of quarters and be like Cosmo Kramer in the famous Calzony episode ;-}

    OK, this is really not funny though. Here’s another topic that I would glady have something to say on if a Reason dude mentioned it:

    Notice next time you check into one of the chain motels what they do with your driver’s license. Even if you pay CASH! I would understand if you had to pay a deposit to cover possible damages, or even if the photo-copied your license, and then threw it out when you checked out in the morning. However, this particular chain – Comfort Inn – told me (and showed me) how the info was entered into their database for the cops to look at at their leisure. And, the manager did tell ask me why I was worried about it, if I hadn’t done anything wrong. I’m not kidding. I slept in the car the next night and got just as good a night’s sleep, maybe better.

    1984 is here, people. Take a stand. (But, the RFID tags are not really the problem, and corporate America is not the problem, either. Focus on the real scary stuff – i.e. Uncle Sam, or Big Brother Sam, as he’s now known.)

  39. Yeah, People Are Funny, but this used to be a free country, Asshole. Maybe you don’t care – but I can see a huge difference from 1985 to now.

  40. That was the position she played on my sister’s hockey team. She only lasted two games because she kept moving out to the right side, and the coach decided to cut her.

  41. These tracking devices used in products are easy to
    disable right in the shop with a litlle tiny microwave pulse produced with a little tiny gizmo.
    ‘Won’t get in to details how to build such,someone with a little know how in the microwave stuff could build it.
    Such device could be a hole in the market by the way…….loads of money could be earned with selling anti spy equipment.

    It must be very frustrating for the ones who are on the spying side of the story that it’s so damned easy to disable superduper hightech spy stuff with low tech antispy apparatus hehehehe.

    works anitime anywhere….resistance is futile hehehe.

    secretary general of SSS

  42. When are the aliens coming? I have my tin foil hat on and no aliens are near? This must mean it works or their not coming yet right?

  43. EMAIL: krokodilgena1@yahoo.com
    IP: 62.213.67.122
    URL: http://www.PENIS-PILLS-SECRETS.NET

    DATE: 12/11/2003 04:20:41
    The way to love anything is to realize it might be lost.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.