Walmart Paranoia

Walmart is expanding the use of RFIDs in products sold in its stores. In this story, we learn that this is an insidious invasion of privacy.
Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) is putting electronic identification tags on men's clothing like jeans starting Aug. 1 as the world's largest retailer tries to gain more control of its inventory. But the move is raising eyebrows among privacy experts.

The individual garments, which also includes underwear and socks, will have removable smart tags that can be read from a distance by Wal-Mart workers with scanners. In seconds, the worker will be able to know what sizes are missing and will also be able tell what it has on hand in the stock room.

They are bugging our socks and underwear! Consumer advocates to the rescue:
"This is a first piece of a very large and very frightening tracking system," said Katherine Albrecht, director of a group called Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering.

Albrecht worries that Wal-Mart and others would be able to track movements of customers who in some border states like Michigan and Washington are carrying new driver's licenses that contain RFID tags to make it easier for them to cross borders.

What paranoid nonsense. The bit about driver's licenses makes no sense at all, since Walmart or anyone else can already read those cards with a scanning device. It seems possible that someone might scan your trash to see what labels you have thrown out. But how important does Ms Albrecht and others in her group think they are? Who is going to care enough to scan her trash to figure out what brand of jeans she buys? Even if they do, who cares?

I rather like the idea of not having to go through the current checkout process. Imagine just walking past the register, and having your purchases scanned all at once! That would be great.

New technology seems to attract such fears. I remember when caller ID came out. This was a new feature of phones in the 90s. When someone called, you could dial *69 or some such and get the phone number the person who was calling you. The horror! Advocacy groups like MPIRG were up in arms about it. Their theory was that somewhere there would be an abused spouse, hiding from her husband. If she were to call home, the husband might be able to figure out where she was. Based on this scenario, advocates lobbied strongly to ban caller id. Having a blocking option wasn't even enough for the consumer advocates. (What if she forgets to block!) Now of course, people would think you were nuts for suggesting banning such a feature. Every time someone calls me, I can see who it is, or a notice that the id is blocked. If I don't know who it is, I don't have to answer. Who doesn't like having that ability?