10th Aug 2003 : Web Edition No: 11640
Editor-in-Chief: Ahmed Jarallah

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Retailers eye tiny tracking chips
WASHINGTON, July 16, (AFP): Tiny new radio-emitting chips for tracking retail products from factory to checkout represent a dream for retailers, but a nightmare for privacy activists.

The so-called Radio Frequency Identification chips, the size of a pinhead, could be placed on anything from soup cans to sneakers.
The chips could eventually replace bar codes, which identify only a type of product, with the ability to identify individual items and allow suppliers and retailers to know exactly what is on their shelves or in inventory.

Promoters of RFID said it can be a boon for retailers, suppliers and others."Put a tag - a microchip with an antenna - on a can of Coke, a pair of jeans, or a car axle, and suddenly a computer can 'see' it," says a brochure from the industry-funded Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"Put tags on every can of Coke, every pair of jeans and every car axle, and suddenly the world changes. 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."

Allied Business Intelligence, a market research firm, estimates the global market for the chips will grow to more than 3.1 billion dollars by 2008.
The chips are being used by the US Department of Defense as well as the world's largest retailers, including Wal-Mart, Metro AG, Carrefour, Tesco, and Ahold, ABI noted.

But just as the chips may help businesses, they could compromise individual privacy, say activists who fear hidden chips will make it onto clothing, accesories and auto parts.
Katherine Albrecht of Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering says tracking information would go into databases that could be on the Internet or be made available to the government for its controversial Total Information Awareness program to track terrorists.

"Anyone can get access to a reader and figure out what's in people's shopping bags, what kind of underwear they're wearing," Albrecht said.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center says the tags "would create an Orwellian world where law enforcement officials and nosy retailers could read the contents of a handbag - perhaps without a person's knowledge - simply by installing RFID readers nearby."

A number of companies are going full-speed ahead on the technology. Gillette, the US razor and consumer goods maker, ordered 500 million of the ID tags.

But other companies appear to be backing off. Italian apparel giant Benetton, faced with a boycott by privacy groups, issued a statement this year declaring "that no microchips (Smart Labels) are present in the more than 100 million garments produced and sold throughout the world under its brand names."
Benetton said it was still studying the use of the chips in garments but had made no final decision.

Wal-Mart spokesman Tom Williams said the world's largest retailer has looked at the possibility of using tags on individual items for a so-called "smart shelves" program, but for now was only planning on using RFID chips for inventory shipments on crates and boxes.
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