August 14, 2003 3:30 PM PDT

Gillette shrugs off RFID-tracking fears

Gillette has dismissed assertions by privacy groups that the company plans to use smart tags in its products to track and photograph shoppers.

The Boston-based consumer products company is one of the first to start trials of the controversial radio frequency identification (RFID) tags in its Mach 3 razor blade packets. U.K. supermarket chain Tesco has been testing the tagged products in a store in Cambridge, England.

But privacy groups started protesting outside the Tesco store when it emerged that the supermarket was automatically taking photographs of shoppers when they picked the blades off the shelf and when they left the shop with any tagged product.

U.S.-based group Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering (Caspian) is urging a worldwide boycott against Gillette over the tagging concerns.

"We want to send a clear message to Gillette and other companies that consumers will not tolerate being spied on through the products they buy," said Katherine Albrecht, director of Caspian.

But Gillette has hit back at the "misleading" claims, saying it only wants to use the RFID tags to improve the efficiency of its supply chain. The chips, when inserted into products, emit radio signals that allow them to be tracked.

"Our intention is very much pallet and case application within our supply chain," Paul Fox, a Gillette spokesman, told Silicon.com. "We have never, nor do we have, any intention to track, photograph or videotape consumers."

Tesco's Cambridge trial finished at the end of July, and it is now running a pilot with RFID tags in DVDs at its store in Sandhurst, England.

A Tesco representative said the photographing of consumers was just part of a range of uses the supermarket chain is looking at for the tags.

"We are just looking at the benefits," the representative said. "It is blue sky stuff. The camera use was a side project to look at the security benefit."

Wal-Mart undertook a similar trial in a Boston-area store but recently decided to cancel the test. Italian clothier Benetton is studying how it could use RFID chips.

Andy McCue of Silicon.com reported from London.

 

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