Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags have long been used to identify bicycles. Some suppliers fit them at source, and consumers can fit them as aftermarket security items. However, the next generation ofRFID are so small, retailers such as Wal-Mart and Tescos are talking about fitting the so-called 'radio barcodes' to masses of products, raising the spectre of physical tracking of consumers and their buying habits. Thirty consumer rights groups in Europe and the US want use of the tags to be halted and a moratorium held on their use in the future.

Gag the tags, say consumer groups in Europe and US

"Imagine a world where you could be tracked because what you are wearing, buying or carrying has a small chip inside dedicated to informing others of your movements and consumer habits," asks Chris McDermott, founder of the UK campaign group, NoTags.

This group of one of thirty to sign up to a petition asking politicians around the world to halt the automatic RFID tagging of consumers products. Other signatories include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Privacy Information Centre, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Privacy International.

Tesco plan to begin using RFID tags from 2004 with full application of the technology within the supply chain being achieved from 2006 onwards.

Following ‘successful’ trials of the technology, the company have also said that it intends to item-level tag some particularly vulnerable goods within the store linking these to so called ‘smart shelves’.

However, in the US, Wal-Mart – long-time champion of consumer buying habits tracking – has recently halted the tagging of razors because of fears of a consumer backlash.

“ These tags are not updated versions of barcodes, they are very much more powerful than that. They will contain the specific details of a particular item and, unlike conventional barcodes, can be read from a distance. The tags will also remain active once the item has left the store," said McDermott.

“Other big retailers in the UK are watching how Tesco go about rolling out their RFID plans and we would call on all of them to ensure that they don’t follow Tesco down the route of item-level tagging."

In theory, a large retailer using embedded RFID tags could scan a store for customers entering wearing, say, top-end bicycle helmets and then modify in-store offers as the customers wandered the store.…/RFIDposition.htm

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