RFID Backers Lay The Privacy Groundwork For Item-Level Tags - InformationWeek

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RFID Backers Lay The Privacy Groundwork For Item-Level Tags

Few retailers have big plans in the works to tag individual products. But they're taking the privacy fears seriously.

Somewhere in this country, someone might be buying a pair of Levi's with a radio-frequency identification tag attached. Companies may not understand why that idea so terrifies certain people, but events last week show they're finally taking the fears seriously.

Levi Strauss is testing RFID on men's jeans sold in one U.S. store and on pants in two stores in Mexico. The company hopes the tags, which are removed when the pants are bought, will allow quicker restocking and fewer empty shelves.

Few retailers go as far as Levi Strauss, since the chips are too expensive for most goods. But RFID opponents stoke fears that chips on products will let companies collect data about people's purchases. So companies are laying the privacy groundwork now for when they do widespread tagging of individual items.

Last week, IBM pitched RFID technology embedded in a clothing tag with features aimed at letting buyers protect their privacy. Intact, the perforated tag transmits a signal up to 30 feet, making it useful for stocking and inventory before an item is sold. After its sale, the buyer could clip the tag at a perforation, leaving only enough antenna to transmit within an inch, making it still usable for returns.

Also last week, companies including Procter & Gamble and Eli Lilly issued privacy guidelines for companies using RFID applications that collect data linked to personal information. Working with the nonprofit Center for Democracy & Technology, the group laid out best practices that include informing consumers about RFID tags on clothing or packages and explaining how to disable them. It all seems reasonable. But Levi Strauss and others shouldn't count entirely on reason when it comes to fear surrounding RFID technology.

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