Organic Consumers Association

Wal-Mart Accused of Using "Spy Chips" Embedded in Products

From Agribusioness Examiner #301 b11/11/03
By Al Krebs <>


CASPIAN NEWS RELEASE: Wal-Mart and Procter & Gamble conducted a secret RFID trial involving Oklahoma consumers earlier this year, the Chicago Sun Times
revealed on [November 9]. Customers who purchased P&G's Lipfinity brand
lipstick at the Broken Arrow Wal-Mart store between late March and mid-July
unknowingly left the store with live RFID tracking devices embedded in the
packaging. Wal-Mart had previously denied any consumer-level RFID testing in the United States.

"It proves what we've been saying all along," says Katherine Albrecht,
Founder and Director of Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and
Numbering (CASPIAN). "Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble and others have
experimented on shoppers with controversial spy chip technology and tried to
cover it up. Consumers and members of the press should be upset to learn
that they've been lied to."

The Sun Times also reported that a live video camera trained on the shelf
allowed Procter & Gamble employees, sometimes hundreds of miles away, to
observe the Lipfinity display and consumers interacting with it.

"This trial is a perfect illustration of how easy it is to set up a secret
RFID infrastructure and use it to spy on people," says Albrecht. "The RFID
industry has been paying lip service to privacy concerns, calling for
notice, choice and control. But companies like P&G, Wal-Mart and Gillette
have already violated all three tenets when they thought nobody was looking.
This is exactly why we oppose item-level RFID tagging and have called for
mandatory labeling legislation."

The Lipfinity tests were conducted while Wal-Mart and Procter & Gamble were
sponsors of the MIT Auto-ID Center, a consortium of over 100 corporations
and government agencies founded in 1999. Auto-ID Center activities were
supervised by a Board of Overseers, which included both Wal-Mart and Procter
& Gamble, along with the Uniform Code Council (UCC), the standards body that
oversees the bar code. The UCC (along with EAN International) took over
commercial functions from the Auto-ID center on November 1 of this year.

"Given the players, the Wal-Mart Lipfinity trial probably isn't an isolated
incident," says CASPIAN spokeswoman Liz McIntyre. "UCC and Auto-ID Center
documents suggest that other products, including Huggies baby wipes, Pantene
shampoo, Caress soap, Purina Dog Chow and Right Guard deodorant were also
slated for live RFID field trials. Coca Cola, Kraft, Kodak and Johnson &
Johnson products are also implicated. However, it may be difficult for
consumers to learn the extent of those trials in the current climate of
secrecy and denials."

Disclosure of the Broken Arrow trial is only the latest scandal to hit the
privacy plagued RFID industry. Early this year, CASPIAN called for a
worldwide boycott of Italian clothing manufacturer Benetton when the company
announced plans to equip women's undergarments with live RFID tracking tags

This past summer, CASPIAN uncovered an RFID-enabled Gillette "smart shelf"
in a Brockton, Massachusetts Wal-Mart and helped disclose Gillette's scheme
to secretly photograph consumers picking up Mach3 razor blades in UK Tesco
stores see

The group also revealed confidential industry plans to "pacify" consumers
and "neutralize opposition" in the hope that consumers will be "apathetic"
and "resign themselves to the inevitability" of RFID product tagging see:

CASPIAN encourages consumers to contact Wal-Mart, P&G and the UCC to voice
their opinion about the use of RFID spy chips in consumer products. Contact
information for these companies is provided on the group's RFID.

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