Monday, 21 July 2003

Tesco found using 'spy chips'

You are free, to do as we tell you. You are free, to do as we tell you.

The UK supermarket chain Tesco has admitted testing controversial technology that tracks customers buying certain products through its stores. Anyone picking up Gillette Mach3 razor blades at its store in Cambridge, in the east of England will have his or her picture taken.

The London-based Guardian newspaper, alerted by Katherine Albrecht, director of US-based Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy and Invasion and Numbering, to the use of the smart electronic tags, has found that tags in the razor blades trigger a CCTV camera when a packet is removed from the shelf.

A second camera takes a picture at the checkout and security staff then compare the two images, raising the possibility that they could be used to prevent theft.

"Customers know that there are CCTV cameras in the store," said a spokesman for Tesco. He went on to insist that the aim of the trial was to provide stock information and not security, but the manager of the Cambridge store, Alan Robinson, has already described how he presented photos of a thief to police.

The trial uses radio frequency identification (RFID) in which tiny chips can communicate with detectors up to 20ft away. The chip can then return information -- anything from a unique serial number to more complex product details. Or, as in Tesco's case, it could trigger a camera.

Retailers have hailed the technology as the "holy grail" of supply chain management but civil liberties groups argue that the so-called "spy chips" are an invasion of consumers' privacy and could be used as a covert surveillance device.

The technology is mostly used to track batches of products through the supply chain.

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