Privacy campaigners have warned that new radio frequency identification (RFID) enabled labels designed for use by retailers could permit the surreptitious tracking of customers who carry away RFID chips with their purchases.
The labels, called Evolve, were unveiled by Checkpoint Systems, which boasts that they can be used to support advanced inventory control and help prevent shoplifting. The Evolve labels are now available for testing.
Checkpoint said the Evolve label carried 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 crate and individual item levels.
But Katherine Albrecht, an author and consumer privacy rights advocate, said RFID tags that offer both anti-theft and RFID tracking capabilities are dangerous for consumers. "This 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."
She added: "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."
But retail analyst Evan Schuman said the new technology should not be "worrisome" for consumers. Retailers would disable the chip once a sale wais made, he said. Even if a live chip was carried home by consumers, "it's not going to make the consumer's life materially less private", he argued. "Privacy was lost years ago."
Checkpoint's chief executive George Off said: "As products move through the supply chain, on-shelf availability is negatively impacted by theft, damage and paperwork errors. The combined functionality of the Evolve labels provide the benefits of theft deterrence and inventory visibility."