Walmart is rolling out a new way of tracking inventory — and customers, according to privacy advocates — next month, by attaching radio-frequency ID (RFID) tags to jeans and underwear. Though the tags ostensibly let employees assess stock supplies more accurately, opponents allege that these "spytags" let Walmart and other unscrupulous marketers track buyers' behavior once they leave the store. Nonsense, say Walmart and retailers who already use the technology. Should consumers be worried?
This is an inevitable development: Ooooh, "horrors!" says Dennis Kneale in CNBC. "Walmart wants to track your panties purchases." This silly flap wouldn't even make the news if it didn't involve the "Darth Vader of retailers." But "the Cassandras of the privacy movement" can't stop this "inevitable tech trend," because it makes serious financial sense. Besides, in the age of Facebook, will anybody really join this "privacy prude" parade?
"Wal-Mart's privacy invasion—Not!"
Walmart's being a bit "Big Brother-y": Sorry, but the notion that Walmart can always track your underwear, or at least the smart tag inside it, is "kind of creepy," says Leonora Epstein in The Frisky. That's doubly true of criminals with access to the scanning technology. One question: "Why just jeans and underwear?"
"Wal-Mart will know where your jeans are..."
The privacy panic is being overstated: The real fear here is change, says Jeff Jarvis in The Faster Times. The kind of fear that rears its head every time a new technology is introduced. I personally want shelves stocked efficiently, so I can find what I want, and if they scan my pants, so what? Walmart finds out "I'm no longer the svelte [size] 32 I once was?" Terrifying.
"The privacy wingnuts take on Wal-Mart"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The mystery behind China's aggressive push into space
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why Texas' abortion rates aren't falling as quickly as everyone expected
- The 5 best and worst states for a well-lived life
- What religious traditionalists can teach us about sex
- Yes, Republicans can impeach President Obama
- The 6 best low-cost smartphones
- 7 ideas from ancient thinkers that will improve your modern life
Subscribe to the Week