HOW WAL-MART AND GILLETTE GOT THEMSELVES INTO A PUBLIC RELATIONS NIGHTMARE...
By Mary Starrett
July 4, 2003
When CNET (http://news.com.com/2100-1017-979710.html) reported back on January 8th that Wal-mart and Gillette were planning on teaming up to introduce Radio Frequency ID- chipped products in the Brockton, Massachusetts store most people hardly noticed. The same was true when the RFID Journal (http://rfidjournal.com/article/article/258/1/1/) reported a day earlier that "Gillette plans to use the (RFID) tags with "smart" shelves (with built-in RFID readers) in stores in the U.S."
Just high-tech talk about some nonsense that only manufacturers and retailers care about. That's why both Gillette-- the pioneer in RFID-chipping for consumer items and the nation's largest retailer--Wal-Mart figured they'd just go ahead with plans to do a "field test" in early June.
They set up Gillette products on an RFID-reader enabled "smart" shelf with no notification that a test was being conducted. (I have seen a picture of the shelf in the Brockton Wal-Mart store. It shows pager-sized black boxes attached to wires - one of several photos a privacy-loving woman snapped after finding out about the trackable Gillette products and the reader devices.) A front page story in the Brockton Enterprise alerted local shoppers to the scheme. Soon after the story ran, the "smart" shelves were gone, replaced with standard supermarket shelving that looked nothing like what our astute shopper had seen when she photographed those same shelves just 12 days earlier.
Apparently what Wal-Mart and Gillette didn't count on was that so many of you would read an article I wrote titled "Big Brother Comes To Wal-Mart." In it I told you about Gillette and Wal-Mart's plan to pull this "test" off at a store that serves typically lower income, minority shoppers.
In the article I explained that Radio Frequency ID chips can and are being attached to products. These "spy chips, as privacy advocates, call them can be "read" whenever they pass a device (a reader). That means the data on whatever product you're carrying can be "read" identifying the product and all the information stored on the RFID "chip".
Word that Gillette and Wal-Mart were about to conduct a trial using this technology made you angry enough to call, write, email, boycott and whatever else fed-up American's do when they realize that their privacy has been invaded yet again.
I got wind of the tracking chip story from a researcher named Katherine Albrecht. While she was busy working on her doctorate at Harvard, she dug up all kinds of really Orwellian plans about to be put into place by big corporations that figure you're not paying attention to the technology they have in place to track the products you buy. (Just like when you weren't paying attention to those supermarket "loyalty" cards that were supposed to save you money but instead, have actually been keeping track of every purchase you make.) Now there are efforts to include RFID chips in those cards to identify you the moment you walk in the door. But, hey, you'll save 8 cents on paper towels, so who cares?
They think you're not paying attention. They think you couldn't care less.
They're wrong. You proved it. Wal-Mart and Gillette have decided to "drop" the field tests they'd planned, according to Wal-Mart spokesman Tom Williams. In fact, our sources tell us after the word got out that the Gillette products, attached to "smart shelves" were in place, your emails and phone calls had even the suits on Gillette's mahogany row answering calls!
I just got off the phone with Gillette's Boston-area spokesman, Paul Fox. He denied knowledge of any testing going on in Brockton. I asked him about the testing no fewer than half a dozen times and his answer was always the same "Ask the people at Wal-Mart, I have no knowledge of any testing." How can this statement be true when over 100 references in the mainstream and technical media have been reporting about the Brockton Wal-Mart/Gillette plan for SIX MONTHS?
After an exhausting phone call I hopped on my computer and spent 45 minutes reading all the stories that have been printed or posted about this well-reported field test. I'm going to have to send them all to Paul Fox- I guess he hasn't read them.
Reporters covering this story have been told they "misunderstood" when writing about the tests--which were at first acknowledged. That must mean that over 100 other reporters "misunderstood" as well.
I just wanted to update you and encourage you to continue to keep the pressure on Gillette(1-800-GILETTE or GILLETTE.COM) and Wal-Mart (1-800-Wal-Mart or WALMART.COM)
Get educated. Check out stoprfid.org and nocards.org. Email the Oprahs, O'Reillys and Rathers. Call your local radio stations and newspapers.
Just because these two corporate giants have backed down in the face of your wrath,doesn't, by any means, signal the threat is over. This technology has been creeping into more and more products and it's not going away any time soon.
Remember several months back when I alerted you to Benetton's plan to chip its Sisley line of lingerie? You went to boycottbenetton.com and voiced your plans to stop buying their clothes. They backed down.
But guess what? They're baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack! Mauro Benetton recently said "in my opinion, the full traceability of products will soon become a must." In fact, Mauro likes the RFID game so much he's the president of Lab ID, the company that developed the RFID program for Benetton in the first place.
We've seen time and again when a company tells us it's no longer going to use RFID to "chip" it's products, what it really means is " until the heat dies down, that is!"
The peril we face by ignoring the implications of this fast-moving RFID miasma can be summed up in the words of Proctor and Gamble executive Larry Kellam, who's letting us in on what's to come if we continue to allow the spy-chip technology to advance. Because, make no mistake about it-tracking chips in razors and shaving cream is one thing. Tracking chips in food is quite something else.
"If we get a declaration from Homeland Security that this is the step we need to take to protect the food supply, that's the step it will take to move this technology forward."
God help us.
© 2003 Mary Starrett - All Rights Reserved
Mary Starrett was on television for 21 years as a news anchor, morning talk show host and medical reporter. For the last 5 years she hosted a radio program. Mary is a frequent guest on radio talk shows. E-Mail M123STAR@aol.com
"Just because these two corporate giants have backed down in the face of your wrath,doesn't, by any means, signal the threat is over. This technology has been creeping into more and more products and it's not going away any time soon."