Privacy advocates critical of dual-purpose RFID label

Consumer privacy advocates think they may be used to track customers

Checkpoint Systems is rolling out a line of radio frequency identification (RFID) enabled labels that it boasts can be used to both support advanced inventory control and help catch shoplifters, allowing retailers to consolidate its use of the technology.

The technology, however, is already alarming consumer privacy advocates, who fear such a combination could permit the surreptitious tracking of customers who carry away the RFID chips in their purchases. The Thorofare, N.J.-based security technology maker unveiled the label, called Evolve, Tuesday.

Checkpoint said the Evolve label carries an industry standard Generation 2 RFID tag for tracking and a separate radio frequency circuit to enable in-store electronic article surveillance.

The inventory tracking software in the Evolve RFID chip can be used to manage stock levels and to monitor inventory at the case and individual item levels.

"As products move through the supply chain, on-shelf availability is negatively impacted by theft, damage and paperwork errors," said George Off, Checkpoint's CEO, in a statement. "The combined functionality of the Evolve labels provide the benefits of theft deterrence and inventory visibility."

Checkpoint said the Evolve labels are now available for testing.

Katherine Albrecht, an author and consumer privacy rights advocate, said in a statement that RFID tags that offer both antitheft and RFID tracking capabilities are dangerous for consumers. "This [dual-purpose RFID-based products] is beyond a doubt the number one most important -- and dangerous -- development in the consumer privacy arena today. It means consumers may soon be buying, wearing and carrying products tagged with RFID at the item level."

"Dual-use tracking devices will quietly be embedded in a person's belongings, where [vendors] will be able to silently and secretly transmit information about you to marketers, criminals and Big Brother," stated Albrecht.

Evan Schuman, a retail analyst and blogger, however, said the new technology should not be "worrisome" for consumers.

Schuman said he expects that retailers will kill the chip once a sale is made. Even if a live chip is carried home by consumers, "it's not going to make the consumer's life materially less private. Privacy was lost years ago."

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Marc L. Songini

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