Beyond the bar code:
February 20, 2001 7:51 AM   Subscribe

Beyond the bar code: Tags on retail products will send radio signals to their manufacturers, collecting information about consumer habits -- and raising privacy concerns. Radio tag technology is already here, used in fields such in livestock, freight-train cargo and highway tolls. The only barrier to widespread use is consumer products is price. When they can be made for a penny, expect to see them everywhere. From the March issue of MIT Technology Review.
posted by jhiggy (13 comments total)
As with most things that track my activity and invade my privacy I'm a bit opposed to this. However, how cool would it be to go to the market, bag your groceries, and walk out, the amount being deducted from an account I set up specifically for this reason. I think I can live without the "robotic" teenage cashier that is usually unhappy with his job.
posted by winterdrm at 8:25 AM on February 20, 2001

I'll only care if this is the only option. As long as I can still get my fixin's without being logged, I'll be happy.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:32 AM on February 20, 2001

If those Amazon Pay Sites freak you out, imagine going into Boots/RiteAid and an electronic voice saying, "I see you've bought a bottle of wine, some roses and pretty women on DVD, how about some condoms!" ;)
posted by fullerine at 8:48 AM on February 20, 2001

Sorry about the example (It's been a while)
posted by fullerine at 8:49 AM on February 20, 2001

They aren't necessarily logging the consumer; they are logging products. Logging consumer habits is an entirely different technology which may be coming around whether or not these radio tags are ever used. Also the radio tags need a reader to send out their signal, so the signals won't follow you home unless you bring them in range of a reader.
posted by Loudmax at 8:52 AM on February 20, 2001

If nothing else this technology may help us figure out where all those socks disappear to.
posted by bondcliff at 8:59 AM on February 20, 2001

I first heard about this a couple years ago, when a friend of mine working at Tower Records told me about something similar they were implementing to control inventory, and also prevent employee theft through the back door.

With Motorola- and MIT-backed R&D, the "penny beacon" technology will happen eventually, I'm sure. But the sticking point right now appears to be building a transponder that reads radio beacons from more than five meters, isn't prohibitively expensive, and also meets FCC approval for non-corporate usage. Tracking within a company's property is one thing, but building a network of radio towers that range into living rooms, offices, and automobiles will require massive regulation. I suspect privacy advocates will lobby heavily to prevent something like the "smart fridge" from entering consumer's homes. At least not without their knowledge and consent -- which should hold up, legally, after the RealJukebox fiasco. The true concern is ambivalent consumers who disregard privacy in favor of the hype about a fridge that can do all their shopping.
posted by legibility at 9:18 AM on February 20, 2001

Ya know, it's stuff like this that awakens my long dormant, Southern Baptist, fire-and-brimstone, Four Horsemen, Mark O' the Beast, Heebie-Jeebies. Not that it's valid, but once they pound that crap into your kindergarten brain, it tends to stay there.
posted by Optamystic at 10:58 AM on February 20, 2001

When I was in 2nd grade, there was a kid who brought up quite often a warning from his preacher that when the price of a loaf of bread hit $1, that would cause the end of the world.

The loaf I just bought yesterday was $1.39. I'm still waiting.
posted by aaron at 3:44 PM on February 20, 2001 preacher used to say that too. Wonder if they had preacher conferences where they determined which yardsticks they would use to scare the jeepers out of the young 'uns. Or maybe that kid and I went to the same church.

I remember a particularly vehement sermon in which the preacher pounded on the pulpit, and, red in the face, screamed: "I believe the Lord will come back in 1979."
I'm pretty sure he was wrong on that one.
posted by Optamystic at 4:03 PM on February 20, 2001

No, you just weren't paying any attention. And now you are damned.
posted by sonofsamiam at 4:05 PM on February 20, 2001

posted by Optamystic at 4:20 PM on February 20, 2001

Optamystic: I was in 7th grade when our Sunday School teacher told our class: "I believe Christ will come back and the Tribulation will begin before you graduate from
high school."

I graduated in the 80s. Guess Jesus still wasn't a punctual guy then, either.

Of course, we can't forget his original disciples. Those guys have been waiting a really long time.
posted by Dirjy at 4:39 PM on February 20, 2001

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