Gillette and Wal-Mart have canceled plans to test radio-frequency identification (RFID ) chips on packages of Gillette razor blades sold in Wal-Mart stores. According to news reports, Wal-Mart says it backed off from the test as part of a change in strategy. But the proposed test had also become the target of a campaign by privacy advocates who fear that the technology could be used to track individual consumer purchases. Earlier this spring, clothing firm Benetton dropped plans to place RFID chips in individual clothing items as a result of similar protests.
Gillette said earlier this year that it would begin applying the chips to its products, which would then be stocked on a "smart shelf" in a Wal-Mart store. That smart shelf would contain a low-powered radio scanner that could read information programmed into the chips or tags, letting store managers know (in theory) whenever product was removed from a shelf. The proposed test, which could have led the company to purchase as many as a half billion chips, was one of the most ambitious to date in the evolving field of data-capture technology.
The cancellation of the Gillette-Wal-Mart test is unrelated to Wal-Mart's announcement earlier this summer that it would require its top 100 suppliers to begin applying the tags to cases and pallets by 2005.