Cut the tags off when shopping at Wal-Mart. Or better, don’t shop there.

By Luis R. Miranda
The Real Agenda
July 27, 2010

The Radio Frequency Identification technology, just as many other ones used by large corporations (face reading and license plate reading technologies, etc), seems to have no limits in its applications.  RFID is, however, the one that takes all the trophies when it comes to invading privacy.  It is used in credit and debit cards, identification documents such as passports and driver’s licenses, supermarket items and now, Wal-Mart items.  Wal-Mart is the first big chain of stores to explicitly announce the use of RFID to track its merchandise, but there are a host of other companies that adopted it without warning to the public.

Of course, Wal-Mart has a “good reason” to excuse the use of this technology: Convenience.  This is the favorite reason corporations provide the public when trying to introduce unpopular practices in a way their violations are disguised.  The retailing giant will begin adding RFID tags to clothing items, specifically men’s clothing, on Aug. 1 to “gain more control of its inventory.”  The new policy will also include other items such as underwear and socks.

Now, this does not mean Wal-Mart will use the tags to know what brand you prefer or how you spend your money.  They already know that.  Wal-Mart keeps all customer information stored in a gigantic database.  The news about this tags aren’t even themselves.  The news is there is another corporations “selling” people convenience as a distraction to slowly but surely domesticate consumers into accepting RFID technology in their daily lives so that when the new National ID cards come along, everyone will see it as a convenience, too.

Make no mistake.  This may be a convenient tool for Wal-Mart to keep tabs on its stock, but for the rest of us consumers, it isn’t anything more than an indirect -or very direct- attack on our privacy.  So cut the tag as soon as you purchase anything at Wal-Mart.  Or better, don’t shop anything there if you can afford it.  Given the fact Wal-Mart is not unique to the United States -it owns supermarket chains around the world- the potential and real reach this policy will have is as large as the number of customers Wal-Mart attracts.

Do not be fooled by Walmart’s statement that they intend to use RFID on other items but only at a later time.  As everything else is made public by big corporations, it is likely Wal-Mart has been using this technology for a while, and it is only now they decide to tell people about it.  “There are so many significant benefits in knowing how to better manage inventory and better serve customers,”  “This will enhance the shopping experience and help us grow our business, ” says Wal-Mart’s spokesperson, Lorenzo López.  If you take into consideration that Wal-Mart owned stores extend from the United States, through Mexico and into Latin America, it is easy to imagine that the use of this new tags are profit oriented.  It does not matter if in the process Wal-Mart violates your privacy.  The giant will not rest until the $400 billion in its latest fiscal year are doubled and its 4,000 stores become the only ones where people can buy their clothes and food.  The fact many thousands of suppliers depend or do business with Wal-Mart, only means the suppliers themselves will eventually and sooner rather than later adopt RFID technology as well.

“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.  Ms. Albrecht concern is that of many conscious consumers who see this kind of technology as a privacy hog that invades their lives more and more everyday.  One of her main issues comes with the possibility that shoppers who enter Wal-Mart stores will be tracked by this technology through their driver’s licenses -that already contain RFID chips in them- by Wal-Mart workers with their RFID guns, or through pre-installed readers located around the stores.  Nowadays, there are RFID tracking devices anyone can buy on the Internet that can easily read licenses, passports, credit cards and any other document with RFID chips in them, which makes it very likely a corporation like Wal-Mart has those available.

Nonetheless, Wal-Mart spokespeople know shoppers are aware of this and believe they are taking a “thoughtful and methodical approach.” to their concerns.  Dan Fogelman, another Wal-Mart spokesman says the label does not collect consumer information.  “Wal-Mart is using it strictly to manage inventory. The customer is in complete control,” he added.  The retailer will accompany their new technology with what they call a customer “education program” through videos presented in the stores and sign placed around the stores’ corridors around the world.  Wal-Mart operates as Walmart in the United States, Asda in the United Kingdom, Walmex in Mexico, Seiyu in Japan, Best Price in India and it has wholly operations in Argentina and Brazil.  In 2004, Wal-Mart bought the 116 stores from the supermarket chain Bompreço in northeast Brazil. In 2005, it swallowed Brazilian Sonae Distribution Group through its subsidiary WMS Supermercados do Brasil, and with this controlling the brands Nacional and Mercadorama, the leaders in the state of Rio Grande do Sul and Paraná. After acquiring Bompreço and Sonae, Wal-Mart became the third largest supermarket chain in Brazil, behind Carrefour and Pão de Açúcar.

For a list of Wal-Mart’s brands click here.

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