RFID: Taking Away Your Privacy One Product at a Time
September 29, 2003 1:20 PM   Subscribe

We've discussed it before, but RFID, that fun-loving little radio transmitter that can be attached to everything from that stereo system to a carton of milk, is plowing ahead faster than you can say "unregulated." Earlier this year, Wal-Mart issued a mandate that required its top 100 suppliers to include RFIDs on their merchandise by 2005, bringing new meaning to the phrase "panties in a bunch." (Incidentally, Wal-Mart was also the benign corporation that ushered in bar codes for mass consumption in the late 70s and early 80s.) With no regulations on the table, the New York Times reports that the Defense Department plans to issue a statement requiring all suppliers to use RFID. Hitachi has even offered to put it in your currency. Imagine a store a few years from now that can track all of the objects in your cart, and that, thanks to a microscopic RFID stuck to your shoe when you slide through the doors, can determine how many seconds you or your children react to a display. Imagine a world that tracks exactly where each one of your dollar bills go. (So much for the anonymity of johns and porn enthusiasts.) Is this the kind of world we want to abdicate to large retail corporations? Is this the kind of information that governments or private institutions are entitled to know? Discuss.
posted by ed (96 comments total)

 
All I can say is that it's a great time to be a lazy paranoid schizophrenic - modern society is doing all of the work for you.
posted by Pinwheel at 1:26 PM on September 29, 2003


How hard would it be to execute a jamming scheme?
posted by mr_roboto at 1:28 PM on September 29, 2003


All I know is I waited in line for 20 minutes to pay for my groceries yesterday. Being able to just walk out the door and have every item in teh cart dedcucted from an account would have been a Godsend at that point.

Having that information tied to some marketing campaign: not so much.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:30 PM on September 29, 2003


Imagine a world that tracks exactly where each one of your dollar bills go.

It already exists.
posted by msacheson at 1:31 PM on September 29, 2003


Some initial things that have yet to be clarified:

1. How many agencies keep the control on an individual RFID and are able to track an individual Electronic Product Code (EPC)? The manufacturer puts the RFID on the product, but after the product is purchased, does Wal-Mart (or a store) shut it off? Is there a governmental body that tracks it? If an RFID is attached to a book, will under-the-table second hand sales be taxed and accounted for? Then the IRS has another job on their hands.

2. How secure will the EPC Network be (which tracks all of the activated RFIDs)? Is the RFID a stable technology? Does anybody want to lay down a date when RFID will be reverse-engineered?

3. Who determines how much data is enough? According to this FAQ, there will be five individual elements to track RFIDs: the EPC, the ID system (EPC Tags and Readers), Object Name Service (ONS), Physical Markup Language (PML), and Savant (the central nervous system of the EPC Network). Seems a good deal of effort for something that is intended to be helpful.

4. What's wrong with bar codes? And why haven't the efforts worked in improving this technology?
posted by ed at 1:35 PM on September 29, 2003


I thought we'd gotten away from the "Put 'Discuss.' at the end of your posts" meme.
posted by psychotic_venom at 1:35 PM on September 29, 2003


fuck the american dream. right up it's retailing ass.
posted by quonsar at 1:35 PM on September 29, 2003


mr_roboto, RSA's on the case.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:36 PM on September 29, 2003


I know that the gut reaction is to rebel against this sort of thing, but perhaps it's not as bad as we might imagine. On the positive side, much like Amazon uses my past purchases to recommend books to me (some good, some not, admittedly), a retailer could use the RFID data to present customized options based on my previous buying patterns - saves me time and money. I can easily imagine the benefit of having, for example, a clothing store know all my sizes the moment I walk in the door, as well as my usual spending habits. My grocery store now uses something similar to have checkerless checkouts - you swipe your own goods, then your debit card, bag up and you're out in about half the time). If you were a sales clerk, imagine how helpful (and ultimately successful) you'd be if you were able to call up a customer's previous purchases on a terminal when they entered, and could show them goods that you knew they might be interested in, rather than go through the often difficult and timeconsuming exploratory process...?

On the other hand, knowing what I do about database administration, large-scale tracking of dollar bills by the government keyed to an individual would be difficult, if not impossible, to do. GIGO considerations aside, I don't know that this would be possible for informal cash transactions, and it would takes decades at least to get all retailers to sign on, and then you have the inevitable retailers going out of business, being replaced by new ones, changing their policies... personally, I think it would be well nigh impossible for the government to effectively track such things. It's just too big a job, and knowing what I know of government technical proficiency, the data would likely be so flawed as to render it unusable. This does not take into account, much like today's DVD rippers, of talented technical people gimmicking the tracking doodads. Today's hacker class would likely consider doing so simple good form, and tomorrow's might well be able to phreak the system entirely.
posted by UncleFes at 1:38 PM on September 29, 2003


Bring 'em on. The whole idea that all these kinds of innovations are part of some vast conspiracy to Invade Our Privacy is vastly overrated. All of the various improvements to the retail supply chain, alone, over the last few decades, are due to better information gathered by manufacturers and retailers, have saved consumers tons of money and have certainly not led to massive abuses. That line about RFID's stuck on your shoes is ridiculous, anyway, but so what if they want to see how much time you're spending in front of a display? If they want to know, they've always been able to find out just by looking at you, and believe me, they've been doing it -- there's a whole science to how stuff is arranged in stores. In any case, if "they" gathered ten times as much information about everyone's buying habits, great -- we would be better served (yes, served) by the world's merchants of stuff and things and information and services -- and the volume of information would overwhelm even Admiral Poindexter's schemes to crunch it and discover what you had for breakfast today, or other matters of great privacy.
posted by beagle at 1:43 PM on September 29, 2003


Imagine a world that tracks exactly where each one of your dollar bills go. (So much for the anonymity of johns and porn enthusiasts.)

I think that world might find alternative payment methods very quickly, even up to returning to simple old reliable barter. You give me the hum, I give you ten pounds of tomatoes, a box of condoms, two cartons of smokes and a quarter ham...

johns and porn enthusiasts will find a way, trust me :)
posted by UncleFes at 1:43 PM on September 29, 2003


Welcome to the information age.

The tricky bit with RFID is that it allows unknown agents to collect complex information about you from a distance without your knowledge. You are literally broadcasting personal information to anyone who has the technical savvy to listen. You aren't given an opportunity to consent. You aren't given an choice to opt out.

There can be little doubt that businesses will find ways to mine these "personal market reports" in all kinds of unsavory ways.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:48 PM on September 29, 2003


Ok chicken little, it will be at least a decade before RFID is implanted onto your George Washington's. Why? Because

A: Too much money to actually implement RFID on bills, even on $20 and $100 denominations.

B: Another great use for blocking and spoofing RFID tags. Imagine a $5 bill that when scanned coming off as a $100 bill.

C: RFID used on consumer purchases (removable like a sticker barcode) is a great way to steal more stuff. It's also a great way to help prevent stealing stuff. Im drunk right now so I cannot elaborate further.

Discuss.
posted by Keyser Soze at 1:49 PM on September 29, 2003


I'm more entertained by the concept of spoofing than jamming. A whole underground industry of fake tags could crop up. You could litter your person with tags indicating that you're walking around wearing amusing or unexpected things; kinky underwear, outboard motors, you name it. Stores could be baffled by the information that you're somehow wearing baby booties. They could also be used malicously: if security checkpoints included RFID scanners (and they surely would), surreptitiously dropping an RFID tag the size of a dandruff flake on someone, indicating they were carrying mace, assorted box cutters and a tazer would cause no end of perplexing havoc the next time they went through one.

On preview: Keyser, the RFIDs are a passive technology that will be extremely cheap to produce. Cost will be no object to putting them in bills.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:51 PM on September 29, 2003


i, for one, welcome our orwellian overlords.

please, tag me and track me like the human cattle i am. after all, if i'm not doing anything too far from the scientifically determined, government approved definition of "normal," than i have nothing to hide.
posted by keswick at 1:52 PM on September 29, 2003


we would be better served (yes, served)

you haven't even the sketchiest notion of what service is, beagle. who said i wanted to be served at all? i was born into this commercial paradigm, i did not choose it. your mistake is your massive and unjustified assumption that i choose it.
posted by quonsar at 1:52 PM on September 29, 2003


If you were a businessman, imagine how successful you'd be if you were able to get customers to buy more useless junk based off of copious information, income and bank account values and psychological profile while simultaneously cutting your sales staff down to a skeleton crew.

And then there's restocking. Wal-Mart often locks its staff in well after eight hours, often without overtime, forcing everybody to restock and not permitting them to leave for any reason. Managers are known to berate workers for not restocking fast enough. Well, now that you've got RFID going, you can really keep up those productivity values going and berate those employees who fail to restock at superhuman speed! The way things are going, you'd think these workers were being trained to be robots or something. Which brings up an idea for another technological innovation...

One side thought: If RFIDs were applied to firearms and knives and the tags were spoofed, you could really have a lot of fun in a Wal-Mart.
posted by ed at 1:58 PM on September 29, 2003


So opt out, quonsar. Just as surely as there will be an upswell of interst for RFIDs, there will be those who don't want to participate and merchants of all kinds who will be happy to oblige them, either above board (like, say, organic food stores) or sub rosa (like the tobacconist who, if he knows you, will arrange for cubans).
posted by UncleFes at 1:58 PM on September 29, 2003


Looks like I better speed up production on that cabin in the woods.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:02 PM on September 29, 2003


not permitting them to leave for any reason

That's a felony, I think. And a manager will only berate me unduly a few times before I start passive-aggressiving his life into a world of shit.

Also: Walmart is not the ONLY employer in the world. I understand perfectly the idea that one must by necessity occasionally work at a job that is like this, but any manager that did this would have turnover rates through the roof, along with the concomitant training expenses.
posted by UncleFes at 2:04 PM on September 29, 2003


UncleFes: The problem is that theory is that Wal-Mart is placing the mandate on their Top 100 Suppliers. So if you want to purchase that product somewhere else, do you honestly think that supplier will produce a non-RFID version if it's thoroughly embedded into the manufacturing process?
posted by ed at 2:05 PM on September 29, 2003


Commercial paradigm? So quonsar, you must really resent having your garbage collected and having to put up with constructs such as table service in restaurants and doctors, right?

I think I understand the spirit of your point, but you might want to dial it down a little bit. The Wal-Marts of the world and the Aunt-and-Uncle Frizbee-who've-owned-the-little-hardware-store-down-the-street-since-1957 belong to the same 'paradigm'.
posted by GriffX at 2:08 PM on September 29, 2003


Ed: Maybe they will, and maybe they won't. Many of those suppliers supply other stores, who may or may not need the RFIDs embedded and might be able to get non-RFID items discounted from the manufacturer. But even the top 100 suppliers of everything have competition, who may or may not do the same. I mean, there are a LOT of goods and services in this world manufactured and provided by companies that have no connection to Wal-Mart. I venture to say that one could live their lives entirely without purchasing a product manufactured by a wal-mart top 100 supplier, if they knew who those 100 were. It might be a bit more expensive, and it might take a little homework, but I think it could be done fairly easily, if a person felt strongly about it.
posted by UncleFes at 2:12 PM on September 29, 2003


Alright, I am gonna go ahead and out myself as an expert. I do retail demand forecasting for very, very big retailers. This is my bread-and-butter, and I am biased, so keep this in mind.

There's two sides to this story: a) there's a whole bunch of people who think that the retail industry is behind the times and is not doing, or is not interested in doing, customer behavior data mining but they're gonna start after RFID hits the stores, b) there's another big bunch of people (who intersect with the first) that believe RFID will make any number of paranoid Orwellian scenarios possible or just easier.

Lemme start with a wake-up call: there's very little that retailers want to find out about you as a customer and can't based on existing technologies. They have loyalty cards to track buying habits. They do have smart cameras deployed at stores to find out where in the store you spend most of your time and if the items in that area sell well or not. There's no single Orwellian scenario that I can think of that a retailer would want to do and cannot do right now with plain old UPC and data mining. Then there's a crapload (literally) of scenarios I keep hearing about that no sane businessman would try. Go ahead, come up with one, I'd love to hear a new idea.

The main benefit of RFID is that it will make the retail supply chain even more efficient (and it already is the most efficient sort of supply chain around bar none, and I don't wanna hear anything about Dell, Dell's products don't go bad in a few days). The efficiency of the supply chain will trickle down to consumer prices; that is the *goal* of all of this, competitive advantage on pricing. That's it. What other gain can there be? Everything else is already doable now with existing technology.

Seriously, I am sick and tired of all this paranoia. Buying stuff with your money is one of the few forms of direct influence people have these days. This is only going to make things better, not worse.
posted by costas at 2:21 PM on September 29, 2003


Unless it makes things worse
posted by Outlawyr at 2:38 PM on September 29, 2003


UncleFes, do you have something to contribute here that isn't the entirely obvious, "So what? You can figure a way out of it!"

Isn't this still a fucking democracy? Am I the only one not rubbing my hands together in excitement at how much easier it will be to check out from the supermarket or get that just right pair of sneakers? Hey maybe I don't want security guard Harvery finding out what brand of panties my girlfriend wears. Maybe we should stop trying to fix what already fucking works and spend some time on the issues that are really becoming scary, like privatizing the water supply, companies like Monsanto trying to patent 500 year old species of corn and then hold that over the heads of poverse farmers or even, say . . . global warming.

The problems with these programs is that they are fine for the mindless and absolute shackles for those free-thinkers that protest them. But might continues to make right and the rediculously inept far outnumber their conterparts. This country is turning into homogenious barrel of rotten apples.

On preview: Costas, I don't really care if I spent $.15 less on milk in ten years then I do now. I want to keep my overtime benefits and drink milk without trace-elements of rocket fuel. So work on that and leave the tracking behind because we don't care how many millions you'll save. We've got enough money at this point we can start worrying about adding a little more quality to the mix and effectively using what we've already got. I will not spend my life in pursuit of good consumerism.
posted by velacroix at 2:42 PM on September 29, 2003


"any manager that did this would have turnover rates through the roof, along with the concomitant training expenses."

Off topic, but I wanted to disabuse you of this odd notion. As someone who has both managed minimum wage workers, and supervised managers of minimum wage workers, I can assure you:

1) These managers don't give a rat's ass about turnover rates.
2) They aren't career minded people. They cover-my-ass minded people.
3) They usually don't do much training.

So you have people who are very good at ducking consequences in charge of people with very low expectations for their working conditions. Abusive management behavior is the rule rather than the exception. As a supervisor my hardest job was convincing managers it wasn't okay for them to abuse people. and hiring "good" managers in a minimum wage environment is nearly impossible, so firing managers just because they suck at their job isn't much of an option either.

Deciding not to do that sort of work ever again was the best decision I ever made.
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:50 PM on September 29, 2003


costas,

Let's say I walk into your retailer and the RFID tags show i'm wearing Maui Jim sunglasses, a Jhane Barnes shirt, Zegna Sport pants and shoes, a Tiffany & Co keychain, a Coach wallet, a Patek Philippe watch, a Sony-Ericsson T68i and two thousand dollars cash. Now instead of being a fairly anonymous casually dressed guy, with no obvious signs of wealth, I'm a guy who is wearing an electronically readable sign that says 'please annoy the piss out of me, then overcharge me.'

Scenario 2: let's say I want into your retailer and the RFID tags show I'm wearing a six year old non-designer shirt, two year old hanes underwear, five year old adidas shoes, a seiko watch and $42. Now your store can electronically determine that I'm not worth paying attention to, no profit is likely to come of me. Best to divert sales staff to that first guy. An electronic 'don't help me, ever' sign.

Now obviously this won't happen overnight, but I think it's foolish to think that it won't or can't happen.

The goal is to maximize profit, not to minimize cost, and that's a very important distinction.
posted by mosch at 2:53 PM on September 29, 2003


Velacroix: I actually agree with you. But that's a culture issue, not a technology issue. I've worked with retailers on four continents and the push to the lowest common denominator is not a universal constant. European retailers, for example, do use data mines to cater to specific niches (ethnic minorities in some areas, classier foods or other items in others). You can improve quality and customer service through that same data that will lower prices as well; the question is, is there public demand for that, or just for lower prices?

Look around you. Do you see your fellow countrymen or neighbors patronizing a specialty shop or an independent restaurant because of loyalty, better quality or desire for something different? or do you see them flocking to the lowest "everyday" price for whatever good or service? and before you answer that last question, consider that a big chunk of the modern American way of living (I presume you're American, sorry if I am mistaken) is the drive to lower and lower real estate costs -> suburbs -> sprawl -> chains & franchises.

There are other ways. The Europeans have had the same technology and cost factors but they have made different *consumer* choices. The Australians have had more space to spread out than Americans but they haven't.

My point is RFID, data mining and the rest are an enabler. And what the enable really is for large organizations to scale up to their desired size. The culture that goes with these organizations is not a product of their size, but a product of their audience. If Wal Mart didn't have Wal-Mart -type customers, they wouldn't be Wal Mart. That's your real beef, not a radio chip.
posted by costas at 2:54 PM on September 29, 2003


We're just gonna be rats in a maze, I tell ya.
posted by Blue Stone at 3:02 PM on September 29, 2003


Mosch: and this is different from a snobby sales clerk checking you out before giving you priority, how? or from a phone menu taking your account and giving you priority based on your customer rating?

But let's not even go there. You mentioned profit, which assumes cost must be taken into account. Can you crunch the numbers for the infrastructure costs to a) identify all the RFIDs you listed, their costs and potential age, i.e. their current worth and b) their cumulative value as an indicator of your current customer rating? I have a rough idea, and I am telling you it's much, much higher than what retailers spend now.

It won't happen unless there is a reason for that to happen. And that reason is quantifiable, i.e. that the higher likelihood of you doing more business with them because of better service times your potential business with them in the future will have to be greater than the lost revenue from the poor guy who gets the shaft, by an amount equal to your share of the added infrastructure costs. And that infrastructure cost will have to be higher than its opportunity cost, i.e. for the same money and/or infrastructure to be spent somewhere else, say marketing or better products.

Or they could hire a snobby clerk. Which one's easier?
posted by costas at 3:03 PM on September 29, 2003


My real beef is that people are actually spending time to roll out (once again) a standard that has no legally defined limits that has a laundry list of possible abuses and we continue to swallow it without so much as a burp in passing. Sure, I hate Wal-Mart and their low-class clientelle, but that doesn't mean that flock of mindless lemmings should be victim to a consumer tag and release program.
posted by velacroix at 3:03 PM on September 29, 2003


But might continues to make right and the rediculously inept far outnumber their conterparts. This country is turning into homogenious barrel of rotten apples.

Sounds like something Hitler would've said, if you ask me.
posted by angry modem at 3:06 PM on September 29, 2003


mosch: If you're wearing all that when you walk into a store, I don't think they'll need an RFID reader to figure out you're loaded.

My take on this is that RFID tags on all products should be clearly labelled with instructions on how to remove them. Not perfect, but probably the realistic best. Personally speaking, there's some stuff that I would like to keep tags on (e.g. clothes, food, so that my smart fridge and washing machine can figure out what's inside them) and some stuff that I wouldn't (e.g. expensive items - cameras, phones, laptops).

I do care if my milk is 15p cheaper, and I do care that people's time wouldn't be wasted spending hours stocktaking in shops if we had RFID tagging. Sure, the employers will find something else for them to do, but it'll mean one less pointless and boring job to do.
posted by adrianhon at 3:07 PM on September 29, 2003


Velacroix: see above; tag-and-release will not happen that easily, it's too expensive for the potential benefit, and will continue to be too expensive.

You're also missing the flip side: better data mining will allow retailers to find out your niche, your particular tastes and potentially cater to them as well. The downside to that of course is that for them to care there have to be enough people like you in your area. Hence my pet theory: that data mining will eventually segment mobile populations (like Americans) according to their consumer behavior, which will make for some very interesting elections.

Yes, I do spend a lot of time thinking about this crap.
posted by costas at 3:08 PM on September 29, 2003


Let's take a look at a related technology that works and actually assists human beings. In March, the FDA mandated that all drug companies put bar codes on drugs dispensed in hospitals. The benefits involve having a more effective safeguard to ensure that patients get the proper medicine. 413,000 medication errors are anticipated to be prevented because of it.

To bounce off of mosch's scenario, suppose RFID gets into the hands of the underworld (and just like any corporation, if the underworld can utilize a new technology to make a quick buck, they certainly will). Suddenly, you have a criminal element tracking that guy with two thousand dollars of cash in his wallet and beating the shit out of him. RFID can't be reverse engineered? Tell that to the underpaid and overworked Wal-Mart employee who's been screwed one times too many and walks off with a bunch of RFID equipment to exact revenge.

Walk into a store, purchase your goods, and get out as quickly possible. Winner? Corporation who gets you spending money fast and out of their store so they can cram more people in. Say goodbye to the idea of a store as the community beacon. Say goodbye to that small talk you have with the guy behind the counter.
posted by ed at 3:11 PM on September 29, 2003


"Seriously, I am sick and tired of all this paranoia."

Famous last words.

Arguing that my privacy has already been violated is not a good way to justify violating it even more. I, as a consumer and an American, feel I should be allowed to draw a line in the sand at some point. Being forced by retailers to carry and broadcast my purchase information sounds like a good place to draw that line.

costas - Your point about retailers being able to find new uses for old technology is the best argument for why this shouldn't be allowed. With RFID arbitrary agents can *scan* me, without asking, to determine what I'm carrying and where I bought it.

Perhaps I don't want some arbitrary person knowing that I have a $500 camera in my fanny pack. Perhaps I think it's a bad idea to give thieves/cops/retailers a reason to want to scan my car as it drives by.

And what part of "broadcast" are people not understanding here? You don't need to worry about what uses retailers can think of. You need to worry about uses *anyone* can think of, including hackers, thieves, terrorists, cops, ex-girlfriends, PETA members, con men, and practical jokers.
posted by y6y6y6 at 3:14 PM on September 29, 2003


I can live with RFID on store products. I don't like it, but I can live with it.

But on currency? No way. Cash is one of the few forms left that isn't traceable and I've always liked the fact that I can go to a store, skip the loyalty-club b.s. and pay cash. Lots of people (not just criminals) like to use cash specifically because it keeps their names out of the large databases, and a consumer should be able to choose what information a retailer or bank has about them. I can see huge privacy issues cropping up around these chips in currency.
posted by Salmonberry at 3:16 PM on September 29, 2003


"Scenario 2: let's say I want into your retailer and the RFID tags show I'm wearing a six year old non-designer shirt, two year old hanes underwear, five year old adidas shoes, a seiko watch and $42. Now your store can electronically determine that I'm not worth paying attention to, no profit is likely to come of me. Best to divert sales staff to that first guy. An electronic 'don't help me, ever' sign."

I get this anyway, without RFID tags. What they don't realize is that I'm a college professor with disposable income, not a drug dealer with long hair. Stupid little retailers.
posted by mecran01 at 3:19 PM on September 29, 2003


Sounds like something Hitler would've said, if you ask me.

Leave him alone. The man's got shackles on, for pete's sake.

y6y6y6: I bow to your wisdom on the question, thanks.

Walk into a store, purchase your goods, and get out as quickly possible. Winner? Corporation who gets you spending money fast and out of their store so they can cram more people in. Say goodbye to the idea of a store as the community beacon. Say goodbye to that small talk you have with the guy behind the counter.

I dunno, ed. I mean, tag all you want, it's still you're money, adn you can spend it wherever you want. Don't GO to Wal-Mart! Go to Target, or Venture, or Kresge, or whatever. Sure they're big - so what? If you value taking your time, chatting with the guy behind the counter, then patronize those types of stores. Everyone seems so willing to give up the ultimate power in the marketplace - that of the consumer. YOU spend your money the way you see fit. That marketplace dances to your tune (well, to the tune of you and several million of your consuming friends and neighbors). Use it!

And what part of "broadcast" are people not understanding here? You don't need to worry about what uses retailers can think of. You need to worry about uses *anyone* can think of, including hackers, thieves, terrorists, cops, ex-girlfriends, PETA members, con men, and practical jokers.


At the same time, the same impetus that would cause a criminal to find/make/steal a reader could easily prompt legitimate consumers to demand a turner-offer, no?
posted by UncleFes at 3:20 PM on September 29, 2003


"My take on this is that RFID tags on all products should be clearly labelled with instructions on how to remove them."

Don't bet on it. One of the main motivators for rolling this out would be catching shoplifters. Thus, I think we can assume the tags will be *very* hard to find or remove.
posted by y6y6y6 at 3:20 PM on September 29, 2003


Sounds like something Hitler would've said, if you ask me.

Maybe. He was a mouth piece for a lot of frustration and anger. I don't deny that I've a lot of both in regards to this subject.

Also, I don't think we can continue to look at our technology and our culture as two separate things. They mutually define each other, and as such, lambasting of this device because of it's cultural effects is as relevant as technologically doing so.

The culture that goes with these organizations is not a product of their size, but a product of their audience.

Again, I don't see the two as mutually exclusive. That would be like saying Sesame St. is a bi-products of its viewership. Maybe there are certain aspects of that with truth to them but certainly more likely is that both are true at different times, regardless of which, still leave RFID in a bad light.
posted by velacroix at 3:25 PM on September 29, 2003


I remember when there where people who were worried about the privacy concerns of barcodes, too.

And have you heard, the barcode is the mark of the beast?
posted by spazzm at 3:27 PM on September 29, 2003


"better data mining will allow retailers to find out your niche, your particular tastes and potentially cater to them as well."

Reducing consumers to a database query is not a good thing for consumers. It's a very good thing for retailers.

Homogenizing markets and bleeding the life out of mom and pop shops. What a worthy goal.

(not that I'm a saint - far from it - I'm just sayin'.......)
posted by y6y6y6 at 3:29 PM on September 29, 2003


y6y6y6: Well, I can think of several reasons that RFIDs will not be implemented as pure broadcast tags, but more likely as challenge/response authenticators. Highest on that list is not your privacy concerns, but the retailer's. If you can walk out of a Wal Mart store with a cart-ful of queriable RFID tags, the first organization that's gonna want to scan them is Target or K-Mart. Even small samples around say a parking lot can give very,very valuable information about the volume that store is doing to a competitor.

Secondly, RFID may not make your privacy any more secure, but its defeat isn't going to improve things either. This whole paranoia may make people more aware about all the data that's out there already and finally make them demand for some effective privacy laws. Or the volume of the data that RFID will generate will be so large that a new legal framework will have to be created. Either way, as I said above, the technology is not the problem, market demand is the problem.

If you want privacy, demand it. I am sure any number of retailers would jump at the chance to get your business if there are enough people demanding private transactions. Why? As I keep saying, they can get all the important data they want *with* private transactions. Why? because they don't care about what you buy, they care about what they can sell to a large enough number of people to turn a profit. I.e. they care how they can make the largest number of people happiest with the highest number of different enough products (different = more profitable).

Or, by all means, go to your neighborhood store, and get your groceries from good old Mr. Smith who knows what types of detergents your entire family has bought over the years. That's different, isn't it? that's an "interesting conversation" or "better customer service" when it applies to a single store, despite the fact that that one Mr. Smith is much more involved with you as a customer and much more likely to invade your privacy, than Big Grocer who has to manage the buying habits of millions like you.

On preview: Mom and Pop shops sucked, that's why they are on their way out. They had smaller selection, higher prices and greater invasion of privacy. There's no single advantage in a small store, except convenience, and that is being addressed with "neighborhood" or small-format stores.

And y6y6y6: I will disagree again. I am very comfortable with being the result of a query. You know why? 'cause my query in my neighborhood mega-store (it's a Carrefour, not a Wal-Mart, sorry) means I get to buy Lavazza Oro at a brilliant Euro11/kilo, 'cause Carrefour decided there's enough espresso sales in my cluster. Or I could get some Nescafe instant from my neighborhood store. Let me think, I want that, because...?
posted by costas at 3:41 PM on September 29, 2003


If you were a businessman, imagine how successful you'd be if you were able to get customers to buy more useless junk based off of copious information, income and bank account values and psychological profile while simultaneously cutting your sales staff down to a skeleton crew.

I think that's called marketing.

I'm not being snarky, I'm actually affirming what you're saying. You just summed up the whole concept. For example, the next time you flip TV channels (perhaps a tennis match versus a soap opera?), note how tailored the adverts you see are to the expected age/income/race/interests of the demographic that is most likely watching.
posted by Shane at 3:47 PM on September 29, 2003


Anyone that thinks that your purchases cannot be tracked with existing technology is living in a fool's paradise. Perhaps it depends on the country that you live in, but in Australia the majority of purchases are made with EFTPOS and the majority of stores (except the very very small retailers) use scanning to put your purchases through the checkout. While your personal information is not currently available to retailers, they certainly can (and do) build profiles on what their customers are buying and plan their marketing and product placement accordingly. The banks can certainly track your shopping habits by the merchant identification on your transactions (I am not saying they do, but they can) and there has been talk of using this data in criminal investigations ("you say you were nowhere near the scene, but your ATM card was used around the corner five minutes before the crime occurred"). The data is all there already, with just a few connections needing to be made to join the dots.

It seems to be pretty hard to detect or disable RFID chips, so the system would be pretty hard to opt out of if you so chose. Personally, I don't really care if retailers know what my shopping habits are and I look forward to the time when I can scan my own purchases and get the hell out of the store faster.

Small talk with the guy behind the counter? No thanks - if I want small talk, it is not with a pimply-faced 16 year-old who sees me as just another chore he has to face before clocking out. Store as a community beacon? Not in this century. There are places that serve well as community beacons and there are places that are for getting necessary items into my possession as quickly, cheaply and painlessly as possible.

I have to agree with salmonberry that RFID tags on products are OK, but leave my cash alone. If they put tags in cash, how am I going to get all those discounts by paying cash and not requiring a receipt?
posted by dg at 3:48 PM on September 29, 2003


Hence my pet theory: that data mining will eventually segment mobile populations (like Americans) according to their consumer behavior, which will make for some very interesting elections.

Don't you guys have enough of them already?
posted by dash_slot- at 3:49 PM on September 29, 2003


Also, I'd like to plug the best idea I've heard so far on this issue (sorry, don't remember the original source): private data brokers. Your private data/buying habits are valuable to retailers, so why give it away? we should have government-regulated "banks" that act as intermediary: you want your data private? have the bank shut off everybody from using it, but pay back their costs as a usage fee. Want a free account? let the bank market your data as anonymous data points that are valuable to retailers in the aggregate, shielding you from spam and the like. You want to *make* money of your data? let the bank sell it to the highest bidder with your full info. Point is, *control* what's happening to your data, don't just sit there.
posted by costas at 3:52 PM on September 29, 2003


Costas, As far as "loyalty cards" go, I don't use them, don't need to. Every cashier has a generic one they use either automatically if you have none, or if you simply ask.Been the workers workaround for years now. Previously a made up name sufficed to get one and still does.

Adrianhon, Agreed on the big buck items. I'd hate to have burglars "warscoping" houses to determine the next big score!

If RFIDs arer so inconspicous, then what's to keep anyone from 'palming' them to slap on items in the store or otherwise corrupt the data pool with false results? Personally, I'd like to broadcast that I have a Porsche in my back pocket to see the result!
posted by effer27 at 3:52 PM on September 29, 2003


Dash_slot: actually, that's my explanation for the 50-50 nation. People in the U.S move to urban areas to gain access to more niche services/products (a nightlife, e.g. is a service of sorts) and they do indeed move back to rural areas for peace and quiet, etc, but which also means that they are happy with the services provided in these areas *already*. Long-term that does segment the population, and I believe it has already. To a large extent the Democrat-Republican dichotomy here is a marketing dichotomy, not a political one --e.g. it crosses classes and incomes and starts to cross ethnic backgrounds as well.
posted by costas at 3:56 PM on September 29, 2003


Effer27: see above; for any number of reasons RFIDs will be problematic as broadcast only --shoplifting is definitely one... I mean if people are willing to change UPC bar codes on articles to get a lower price (what was that website again?) they can definitely mess with an RFID reader in say a Prada dressing room...
posted by costas at 3:58 PM on September 29, 2003


"the same impetus that would cause a criminal to find/make/steal a reader could easily prompt legitimate consumers to demand a turner-offer, no?"

Well, we have one person participating in this discussion who has a direct relationship with these tags. I'm reading between the lines here, but that person's motivation seems to be in the direction of cool marketing tools rather than consumer demand.

My point being that if we're going to speculate on what *could* happen I'll have to assume that real world marketers will continue to belittle privacy concerns, and consumers will continue to be clueless.

"Everyone seems so willing to give up the ultimate power in the marketplace - that of the consumer. YOU spend your money the way you see fit."

I agree 100%. I just wish it worked that way.

People like costas are tasked with the goal of making people lazy shoppers. They make it easy to shop without thinking. They make it easy to not think about the social and economic repercussions of purchases. The purpose of their science is to make it easier and easier to get all your shopping done in one place.

Then at the end of the day, why would you go to a local shop that has 100 types of meat, when you can go to a megastore that sells 25 types of meat, plus everything else on your list? This trickles down until the local butcher (who had fresher meat, better choice, higher quality, and knew you by name) doesn't have enough customers to maintain a perishable inventory.

As a cook I would have to say that costas has succeeded in making it very inconvenient to buy meat outside of one of his datamining wonder stores.

"YOU spend your money the way you see fit."

Unless the options no longer exist. RDIF is another step down the path which makes what you buy more a matter of what you are *allowed* to buy.
posted by y6y6y6 at 4:02 PM on September 29, 2003


Homogenizing markets and bleeding the life out of mom and pop shops. What a worthy goal.

I want consistency, speed, convenience, low costs. If mom and pop shops can do that as well as mass retailers, then great. If they can't, then they better offer something on the other side of the equation that makes it balance for enough people to keep them economically viable.

If they can't do either, then they deserve to bleed to death.

Most of my friends and family would probably describe me as extreme in guarding aspects of my privacy. Still, I put as much as possible on my credit card because it's more convenient and worth the loss of my privacy. I see RFID tags as the same kind of trade off, and I have no problem with them. None of that stuff seems nearly as scary or problematic as a lot of people want to make it out to be. Maybe in the end, I'll look back and think I was a naive fool, but I really kind of doubt it.
posted by willnot at 4:03 PM on September 29, 2003


costas: Let me tell you about convenience. Wal-Mart couldn't beat the neighborhood corner store if it tried. Sure, ocassionally, you'll walk into a Safeway and you'll find someone you recognize and maybe talk to. But chances are that the clerk is under the gun. Just like any inchoate assembly line, it's about service of an altogether inhuman sort. But any good corner store clerk understands that it is his additional duty to (a) engage in small talk, (b) keep up with each individual customer, and (c) keep up with the neighborhood in general.

I can walk into just about any corner store in America and find out what's happening in the neighborhood in a way that the Wal-Marts and the Targets couldn't possibly offer. Everything from a good restaurant or a weekend happening or (if I was really interested) where to get some 420.

I can speculate with this clerk about the people who walk in and out. And there's no fear of a choleric middle manager type busting down on this clerk for talking too long with the customers. What's more (and here's the deal breaker), this clerk will commit my needs into his own memory and remember if I happen to buy jellybeans from time to time. Nothing photographic, no blueprint, nothing involving a data mine. Just the good solid human brain as a majestic abstract ticker. Now I can respect *that* because I've built up something of an acquaintance with the guy. And I can trust him not to blab about my purchasing habits to anyone else.

But I could never hope to get anything approximating this with an invasive computer chip with a raised antenna. Sort of like an unexpected run-in with the proctologist, albeit on a truly microcosmic scale.
posted by ed at 4:05 PM on September 29, 2003


I know your corner store clerk, and most of our small talk centers around your "jellybean" purchases.
posted by mecran01 at 4:10 PM on September 29, 2003


y6y6y6: for the record, I have no direct interest in RFID. What I do will not be easier with RFID, in fact it may hurt it. For example, currently the quality of POS data is not very good (mis-scans, human error, theft), so retailers have to correct for that using statistical modelling. RFID will do away with that entire part of data mining.

At any rate, you're missing my whole point and that's probably my fault after 10+ comments in this thread. Data mining empowers the *consumer*, not the retailer. A small shop will never be able to stock 100 types of meat for example. Why? because they can have at most what, 1, 2 suppliers? how many types of meat can they order/stock from these two guys anyway? More importantly, will they a) be able to identify that there may be an interest in stocking, say ostrich steaks?, b) care enough to change their way of business to buy ostrich, c) care enough about you specifically as a customer who has asked for ostrich to go out of their way to stock it? My guess is no to all of the above, but any one will not get you any ostrich.

A big retailer on the other hand may have tens of suppliers of meat. They might have done a pilot ostrich roll-out in a neighborhood similar to yours and seen good sales, so they may (and they can) try it out at your store next. By you buying that ostrich you make it more likely that ostrich will be available to the next y6y6y6 in the next town over. You're providing direct feedback to that retailer and their supplier who's gonna go the next big grocer and say "hey, ostrich is hot in y6y6y6 land, want some?". Small stores don't have the power to do that, sorry, that's the way it goes.

BTW, this is the same reason we have a car industry or an airline industry or any other industry: large scale let vendors experiment with niches. Yes, you get boring sedans that look alike but eventually someone will make an RX-8 or a Z-350 (to completely switch analogies).

Ed: I also don't get it; you like your neighborhood store because you can find out what's going on in the neighborhood but you trust them with your privacy? also, that store-as-community-center is warped; the neighborhood store also wants to make profit off of you, and in fact since they have a much less efficient operation they want to make *more* money off of you, not less, to cover their inefficiency. At least the big guys are up front about it.
posted by costas at 4:19 PM on September 29, 2003


"then they better offer something on the other side of the equation"

How about choice, quality, integrity, freshness, and a personal connection? What I hear you saying is that you value your laziness more than you value such things.

Look, I'm fully aware that there are lazy, tasteless, self-centered drones like willnot driving the market. I don't like it. And I'm saying so. People who value their right to be lazy above all else, *and* expect that instinct to drive choices for everyone, are ruining things which will never get better. Once the local markets are gone, they won't be coming back.

I spend a lot of time tracking down things that are different. I never seem to find them at the megastores. When I see a grocery store that lazy American TV viewers would be afraid to go into, it's a safe bet I'll find something wonderful to buy there.
posted by y6y6y6 at 4:28 PM on September 29, 2003


Sounds like something Hitler would've said, if you ask me.

Nein! Hitler would have said: Aber Macht geht vor Recht, und die lächerlich nichtigen weit den fähigen Leuten zahlenmäßig überlegen! Dieses Land macht zu ein homogenes Faß faule Äpfel!!
posted by languagehat at 4:30 PM on September 29, 2003


y6^3: I am gonna have to log off, but think about something else: the brilliant specialty shops, the Korean grocers, the Greek bakeries you get in the US will not be hurt by the mega-stores. If the demand is there, the demand will continue to be there and if the niche is large enough to support them, it will most likely continue to be so --the same reason you get TVR cars as well as Chevys.

But, exposure to Korean kimchee or Greek Baklava at your neighborhood Wal-Mart may actually help these stores by exposing new clientele to their wares, people who would never consider stepping in one of them --just like a Z28 will make you eventually yearn for a proper sports car. OTOH, a competing Mom-and-Pop non-specialty store right next to them would hurt them more than a Kroger in the same strip mall (less traffic for one). In either case, the Korean grocer is most likely there because there are enough people around that want his wares. So, you're not *that* different from at least some people in your area :-)
posted by costas at 4:37 PM on September 29, 2003


"A small shop will never be able to stock 100 types of meat for example. "

You sir (madam?), are in la-la land. You have become drunk on this data worship. You are logically constructing the world to your preference rather than just looking outside.

I shop a lot. I cook a lot. Specialty shops *always* have more choice than mega-stores. And better freshness. And higher quality. Always. I wouldn't spend so much time seeking them out if it weren't so. And they're getting harder and harder to find.
posted by y6y6y6 at 4:38 PM on September 29, 2003


costas: The difference is that the corner store clerk isn't writing my purchases down. He's remembering them. There's a fundamental difference between these two concepts: one invovles a faceless laundry list disseminated to people, machines or marketing people with an ulterior motive for the greatest profit posisble, the other involves a casual, not fully formed memory in the real world, the thing that brings people together in the best of ways and that, on the clerk's end, ensures repeat business.

Or is this an experience that people don't desire out of their stores anymore?

Sure, there may be an ulterior motive. But the corner stores I frequent involve clerks who either genuinely enjoy people or are willilng to put up a veneer more convincing than the poor things at Wal-Mart who are overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated by both customer and management alike. I have never, repeat never, had a clerk fail to be anything more than him/herself at a corner store. Can't say the same for Wal-Mart.

Personally, I'd rather have mecran01 and the clerk shooting the shit about my semifrequent jellybean purchase than some goddam machine tabulating every data as if there was an exact method to my madness.

And, like others have said, there are those lovely little specialties you just can't find anywhere else.
posted by ed at 4:42 PM on September 29, 2003


y6^3 and ed: as for specialties, see above. And as for the quality see much higher in this thread. The price vs. quality balance is a market choice. When I lived in Europe my mega-store (a Carrefour as I said) did have better meats than my neighborhood butcher, because that was improtant to the market. Dg, if you're Australian you can testify as to the excellence of Foodchain, which is an awesome specialty grocery chain. Size does not preclude quality, if the market demands quality.

The issue in the US is twofold: urban sprawl, which segments the market disproportionately discouraging niche retailers, and regulation which allows for non-competitive practices like loss leaders (a Wal Mart favorite). France, for example, forbids selling anything at a a loss to protect smaller stores.

If y'all don't like your local market (meaning the community), either work to change the behavior or the laws or move. I am not trying to be snarky, that's the way the market works.
posted by costas at 4:51 PM on September 29, 2003


You're deluding yourself, ed. I worked at the corner store. I was both more and less than myself at all times. You were probably the chatty bastard customer who was annoyed because I didn't remember whether you smoked Players Filter or Players Light, and I hated you. I just hid it well because my minimum wage paycheque was more important to me than wiping that smug grin off your face.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:53 PM on September 29, 2003


at your neighborhood Wal-Mart

"Neighborhood Wal-Mart" is a contradiction in terms. The parking lot of a Wal-Mart is too large to even fit inside what anyone would reasonably call a neighborhood. In the Old World, a Wal-Mart would be at least a Duchy, if not a Kingdom.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:54 PM on September 29, 2003


But any good corner store clerk understands that it is his additional duty to (a) engage in small talk, (b) keep up with each individual customer, and (c) keep up with the neighborhood in general.

But I don't go to the store to find out about the neighborhood. If I want to know about the neighborhood, I'll talk to my neighbors, or go to a PTA meeting. I go to the store to buy stuff.

And I don't go to the store to buy ersatz friendship (ie, small talk) either.

What's more (and here's the deal breaker), this clerk will commit my needs into his own memory and remember if I happen to buy jellybeans from time to time. Nothing photographic, no blueprint, nothing involving a data mine.

There's still a data mine. It's just in some dude's head, and not a very good one, since it's likely to be confused by the girl behind you with the big tits.

I don't really care if someone's big Beowulf cluster buried in Corporate Central does principal-components on my purchases, figures out that I might like *Foo*, and sends me a coupon for it. Nor does it bother me if Kroger's machines do a duration model on my toilet paper use and start printing TP coupons at the register. Why would it bother me? All I am to the machine is a matrix, and it couldn't possibly care about anything.

I mind it, though, when I get a funny look from the cashier when I'm buying the jumbo box of ribbed Trojans, a big tub of Rocky Road, an X-Tra large bottle of Drano, and some tennis balls. I minded it even more when it was that weird middle-aged lady in the real no-shit mom and pop who was eyeing me, because she acted like she was trying to remember.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:09 PM on September 29, 2003


the other involves a casual, not fully formed memory in the real world, the thing that brings people together in the best of ways

Buying stuff is bringing people together in the best of ways?

Or is this an experience that people don't desire out of their stores anymore?

I don't like nosy clerks and busy-body store owners, so, no, I don't desire that. I'll go further -- I actively wish it would go away, so that I could just make my purchase and not have people pestering me or commenting about what I buy or the clothes I wear or any of that crap.

At least the machine is fundamentally incapable of making a snide remark behind my back.

Personally, I'd rather have mecran01 and the clerk shooting the shit about my semifrequent jellybean purchase than some goddam machine tabulating every data as if there was an exact method to my madness.

And I'd rather the reverse. I don't give a damn what machines figure out about me, and feed to other machines, and they feed to other machines that print coupons or change where things are in the store or start shelving movies they more-or-less accurately think people like me might rent. With the machines, it's just machines crunching numbers and nobody is thinking anything about anyone. But someone remembering what I buy and what movies I rent and such? That's nasty. That invades my privacy.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:18 PM on September 29, 2003


ROU_Xenophobe, I agree completely.

Having said that I don't like getting fucked without my consent, even if I don't feel it. This just seems like an easy way to pick my pocket from five different dimensions I wasn't even thinking of.
posted by velacroix at 5:26 PM on September 29, 2003


Well, there you have it. A substantial number of consumers are simply unwilling to pay for the extra service that small stores provide, and quite a few like ROU don't like having people know your name at the corner store. It's capitalism.

Some people like y6y6y6 frequent specialty shops, which aren't exactly the same thing as mom and pop stores--I doubt if ethnic groceries catering to immigrant populations who insist on their kind of food or gourmet food stores selling things too expensive to be sold at Walmart are Walmart's direct competitors. Specialty food stores sell variety. That is their product. Nowadays, many people don't cook or buy mostly packaged food. They don't need to have fresh duck or veal spleens, because they don't use them. Yet specialty stores do continue to exist, only they cater to y6 instead of the average joe.
posted by Charmian at 5:32 PM on September 29, 2003


A substantial number of consumers are simply unwilling to pay for the extra service that small stores provide

Or a better way to say it is to say that they don't need the "extra service".

Sorry to hear about the dwindling number of specialty shops, y6^3, but as a non-cook, it's hard to argue against lowered prices if they don't restrict my selections any. If I had friends who were excellent cooks and invited me over for dinner more often, though, I'd probably change my tune.

Self-interest is the one reliable human quality.
posted by DaShiv at 5:54 PM on September 29, 2003


The difference is that the corner store clerk isn't writing my purchases down. He's remembering them.

And you trust him with this information? Personally, I'd rather my purchasing preferences be hidden deep in the bowels of a faceless corporate mainframe with several million other people's preferences, where there is nothing to call attention to them or to me as an individual. Chances are excellent that nobody will ever single my records out for special attention, especially since they think I'm Denise di Pasquale. (That's the name of the woman who used to have my phone number, and Safeway thinks she still does.)

On the upside, if your corner store clerk gets run over by a bus, your purchasing history is erased in an instant. A rare instance in which a single point of failure actually improves the system design...
posted by kindall at 5:56 PM on September 29, 2003


ROU: Human data mines? Hardly. The difference is concrete info vs. abstract info. The point I was trying to make was that the abstract nature of the data being conveyed through the human conduit is scant at best. Loads of humans come through a corner store. Come in with enough frequency and some of your tastes are remembered, or even provided for, by a corner store clerk/propietor, but not all of them are presented in exact clinical terms (down to the size you buy and the exact frequency). Given the choice, it's better to have a vaguely reliable human memory than a computer. Translate that into gossip and it really won't amount to much, particularly when hundreds of people are coming through during a shift.

And to look at the situation morbidly, unlike the computer, there's a reasonable guarantee that the human will die and the memory will vanish. Any cutthroat businessman is probably considering the genetic advantages of RFID (i.e., what your son or grandson buys might be influenced or even targeted generationally from the root). Consider targeted marketing planned out over a family line with a Landru-like CPU and hard drive taking it all in like clockwork.
posted by ed at 5:58 PM on September 29, 2003


I should add that Safeway thinks I'm Ms. di Pasquale largely due to their own incompetence. I signed up for their loyalty card and gave them my real name and phone number, it just seems that their computer system can't cope with the fact that people move and phone numbers get reused.
posted by kindall at 5:59 PM on September 29, 2003


As far as "loyalty cards" go, I don't use them, don't need to. Every cashier has a generic one they use either automatically if you have none, or if you simply ask.Been the workers workaround for years now. Previously a made up name sufficed to get one and still does.

I just go to the customer service desk, ask for a card and application, and tell them I'm in a hurry and I'll return the app later. Never fails.
posted by nath at 6:08 PM on September 29, 2003


Don't GO to Wal-Mart! Go to Target, or Venture, or Kresge, or whatever. Sure they're big - so what?

Ahh the illusion of choice!

Anyone remember that sight that had the Fortune X company's board members and you could create diagrams connecting companies through them? I'd like to see the connections in the above listed companies.
posted by betaray at 6:15 PM on September 29, 2003


The trouble with Mom and Pop stores is that when Mom runs off with the Coca-Cola delivery guy, Pop really lets the place go to hell. Sure, sometimes you can get a good deal when he's busy sobbing and you ask what something costs and he gasps "Oh, what's the point... just take it and go, will you?" But on the other hand he might instead grab you by the shirt and scream "he'll ruin her, can't she see that? He'll leave her in some bus station with nothing!" All while snuffling and getting snot all over you. Never happens at Wal-Mart.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:30 PM on September 29, 2003


I did the same thing nath did. Got the card, told them I'd return the application. No problem.

The whole small store vs big store is interesting, but if the RFIDs are on your money, what difference does it make where you make your purchases? It could (potentially) be cross referenced.

It's The Man, man! Once again, attempting to hold us down, keep us back and track our purchases.
posted by Salmonberry at 6:37 PM on September 29, 2003


ed: sorry, you're mistaken. Size distribution among many other things is always better calculated by statistical model, rather than by human beings --and I know this for a fact, as I've seen many retailers change their minds after being shown the data. There's too many in-grained beliefs in a human ("have to have X number of mediums in stock", etc). And I am talking about experts in big retailers, not some Mom in a corner store. What models cannot and will not predict is fashion trends that are more short term --like curry becoming a hot food item, e.g. --pardon the pun.

Further, there is absolutely no value in tracking generational behavior. Not only your dad's buying habits are not a good predictor of your own, but your own habits from as recently as 2 yrs ago are not a good predictor of your own. I do the math, and that's the way it goes. We're talking about very ephemeral data and transient behaviors that people are trying to track.

So, no your corner store "human data mine" has absolutely zero chance of competing with a larger automated one, mainly because they cannot see the forest for the trees, the trees being the customers they serve vis-a-vis their entire regional market. They will always, always lose.

Sorry, statistics don't favor small samples.
posted by costas at 6:44 PM on September 29, 2003


Okay. Fine. Point made. Mediocrity is best. Quality is for weirdos. And everyone prefers it that way.

But I can tell you this - None of you frozen meatloaf lovers are invited over to my house for andouille stuffed chicken with sherry dressing.
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:36 PM on September 29, 2003


"As it happens, the bar code became a mainstream success only after Wal-Mart adopted it, in 1980."

I wasn't even aware of Wal-Mart's existance in 1980. It's only in the last 10 or so years I've even seen them in person, and rarely at that. Did it used to be some kind of east coast thing? Could such an invisible force truly be responsible for the advent of the ubiquitous UPC barcode?
posted by majick at 7:41 PM on September 29, 2003


Maybe you're right y6... googling around for my favorite grocer on the planet I just found out that Foodchain has gone bankrupt. Foodchain stores were really a thing of beauty; a shame, I will never again find mangos like Foodchain mangos...

However, there's hope y6, you can always move to a more demanding market: Sainsbury's in England will sell you freshly crushed apple juice right in the store (made right in front of you if you want). Carrefour in France will actually sell you gourmet French recipies prepared in the store by chefs. Either one of the above will cut meat in the store and package it right there, not in pre-packed irradiated styrofoam packs like in the States. And even in the States, Ralph's in California (a Kroger subsidiary) or Publix in the Southeast will cater to more refined tastes (not quite to the level of Foodchain though). And don't get me started on the candy isle at Waitrose (UK) or the frozen food section in any number of frozen food markets in France (as in gourmet frozen food, not Healthy Choice). BTW, Carrefour is the #2 retailer in the world, Kroger is #4 I think, Sainsbury's is #6. Yes, a grocery freak I am.
posted by costas at 7:51 PM on September 29, 2003


*velacroix clutches y6y6y6 and some andouille stuffed chicken and heads for France, where quality is king!*
posted by velacroix at 7:52 PM on September 29, 2003


Slightly OT y6: I don't think it's a question of laziness. I think it's a question of priorities in the culture. An American will gladly shave off a few minutes off his/her free time to work more and make more money. If you see the work hours per capita for the US compared to the EU, it's ~20% difference, which is frankly unbelievable. A European would rather sneak off work and spent hours shopping for dinner/lunch. That's a cultural priority on work vs. play.

Let me put it another way: the U.S. is the only place in the world where you can find drive thru coffee shops.
posted by costas at 8:22 PM on September 29, 2003


*DaShiv grabs a dictionary: a-n-d-o-u...*

costas: I'll take lazy for $200, Alex. It doesn't matter whether it's a personal or cultural fault: cooking for one is less-than-motivating.

I did a spit-take when I saw my first drive-through Starbucks in San Jose. My friend from out of state made the obligatoratory Silicon Valley geek joke. I mean, I don't even drink coffee.

Much.
posted by DaShiv at 8:30 PM on September 29, 2003


U.S. is the only place in the world where you can find drive thru coffee shops.

Nah. You can't swing a dead cat in Canada without hitting a Tim Horton's. OTOH, Timmy's is good coffee... mmmm... large doubledouble and a plain donut....
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:00 PM on September 29, 2003


i'm actually not too worried about RFID. i figure for under $6 at radio shack i can build a transmitter that will indicate i've just purchased everything in the store.
posted by quonsar at 9:07 PM on September 29, 2003


First, I'm really curious to find out what the "literal" crapload is.

Second, you people are all completely insane. Except for y6y6y6. Maybe.

Thirdly, the argument that a human shopkeeper that you have some kind of relationship (remember those?) with is more of an invasion to your privacy than a corporation is pure lunacy. They may both have the same motivation - to make a profit - when you boil the equation down to its barest essence, but the primary difference is that Walmart and company are pure evil, plain and simple, from the eighth dimension, and would stab you in the face in a hot second if it would get them an extra buck.

On the other hand, I really hate people, and pretty much don't want to talk to anyone when I shop. I always use the self-checkout if there is one, and I'm just waiting for the day when they finally turn the registers at fast food places around and put card readers on them. I can figure out what the little chicky and moo-cow are for myself, thanks.

When the robots come, then all my problems will be over.
posted by majcher at 11:49 PM on September 29, 2003


There is a trend in the UK (London?) towards knowing the origin of the produce - which farm , how the animal was raised etc.. Borough market , a small, overpriced farmers market, has just become one of the most visited sites in london.
posted by dprs75 at 5:19 AM on September 30, 2003


You're all missing the most obvious use of this technology. The telemarketers will know exactly when you are NOT home and will not waste time dialing to get your answering machine.
posted by archimago at 6:28 AM on September 30, 2003


I can't believe nobody's mentioned government yet. Forget library records, they could (eventually) point a wide-beam RFID-a-scope at your house and see everything you own. (And I'm not a typically paranoid government-a-phobe.)
posted by callmejay at 7:21 AM on September 30, 2003


archimago & callmejay: Oh, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

RFIDs for noting how long you sit in a restuarant or a cafe. (Just tag it onto the silverware and dishes and track the first movement of the fork onto plate, followed by the busboy's inevitable removal of dirty fork.)

RFIDs on stamps and envelopes, thus ensuring that creditors have greater evidence with which to dun the working poor or starving grad students. No more creative excuses or methods of working out an installment plan. They'll foreclose your ass.

Private investigators and law enforcement using RFIDs to "frame" the guilty on a minor offense. Much like getting Al Capone on tax invasion or the FBI hassling Lennon. Political enemy of the state? Guess what. We'll get you on something else. The kind of slick breakfast that makes Cointelpro look like a soggy bowl of oatmeal.

Keep thinking the angles. Without any limitations or standards, it's a paranoid world out there for anyone concerned about privacy. Do you really want this kind of info disseminated without limitation?
posted by ed at 10:03 AM on September 30, 2003


DaShiv: Self-interest is the one reliable human quality.

Buddha (and many others): Loss of ego = enlightenment.

Tom Robbins: The Universe does not have laws. It has habits. And habits can be broken.

laziness is excusable. selfishiss is not.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:18 PM on September 30, 2003


i should probably "selfishiss" myself. i'm a horrible editor.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:20 PM on September 30, 2003


RFIDs on stamps and envelopes, thus ensuring that creditors have greater evidence with which to dun the working poor or starving grad students. No more creative excuses or methods of working out an installment plan. They'll foreclose your ass.

They'll foreclose your ass today if you don't make your house payment. (A mortgage is the only kind of loan that can be foreclosed upon.) Has nothing to do with RFIDs and RFIDs will not help in the least.

Most consumer loans aside from car loans are unsecured, which means that if you don't make your payments, the creditor's options are limited to 1) sending threatening but impotent letters and harassing but impotent phone calls, 2) putting negative remarks on your credit report, and 3) suing you. RFIDs won't change anything here either. Banks might start writing loan contracts that give the lender a "security interest" in the financed merchandise, but they can already do that. (In fact, Sears used to have such a clause in the fine print of their credit card agreement -- not sure if they still do. Sears was and possibly still is the only significant credit card that had the legal right to repossess things you bought with their card.)

Lenders will do whatever they can to get as much of their money as they can. If they think they'll get more of their money by offering you a settlement than by taking you to court, then they'll offer you a settlement. Doesn't matter whether they know you've been getting their letters. Their goal is not to punish you for avoiding them, their goal is to get their money.

Your other examples are similarly spurious. Restaurants can and do already measure turnover (and RFIDs would not have any particular advantage over existing tools), and law enforcement already has plenty of ways to frame people they want to frame (drugs are good). RFIDs change nothing in either of those situations. If by "keep thinking the angles" you mean "keep thinking of things that won't be appreciably changed by the advent of RFID and getting all worked up over them," I can see why you might be worried. And tired from all the worrying.
posted by kindall at 12:21 PM on September 30, 2003


RFID's on cannabis buds, infiltrated onto the weed market like phony music files on a p2p net.
posted by quonsar at 1:20 PM on September 30, 2003


UncleFesI venture to say that one could live their lives entirely without purchasing a product manufactured by a wal-mart top 100 supplier, if they knew who those 100 were. It might be a bit more expensive, and it might take a little homework, but I think it could be done fairly easily, if a person felt strongly about it.

I'd take that bet for a donut :) Think big, Kraft, Proctor-Gamble, Esso, Goodyear, Sony, Microsoft, GE, General Motors. It would be worth loosing to have another hermit or monk in the world.

Some of the things not available to you would include:
- any music associated with RIAA
- Almost all medications
- Photographs (does anyone but Kodak and Fuji actually make paper anymore ?) and photographic equipment (digital or chemical) Eyeglasses (the raw lenses are made by only a few companies)
- Any mainstream magazine and most not so mainstream.
- a large majority of books on dead trees.

Some things that would be available but you'd really have to work at it or make it your self:
- Personal care products - tooth paste and brushes, razors, toilet paper, soap
- Maintence items - light bulbs, paint, fertalizer, furnace filters

At least you won't have to go naked or starve but you may never be able to buy prepackaged (including anything canned or tetra-paked) food. And your choices on toys for the kids will be severely reduced.
posted by Mitheral at 1:06 PM on October 1, 2003


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