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Home > Politics

The best tracking a man can get

22 August 2003

#503 was about the Gillette/Tesco wheeze to take a photo of anyone who picks up a pack of razor blades as a "test bed for many more trials of this kind". The scheme involved placing a small circuit in the packaging, triggered by a radio signal, that has a unique ID number for logging in databases stored by the company. Like the devices Benetton tried to implant in clothes.


Alan Robinson, manager of Newmarket Tesco dismissed privacy issues saying "we haven't had a single customer ask what the tag is doing in their packet of razors!". Ho, ho.

Many people thought this was a Bad Thing.

  • Labour MP for Bromwich East, Tom Watson, thought there might be some civil liberties implications, so submitted a motion about the technology behind the scheme (RFID tags), going pleasingly off-message by describing the megacorps as a "them": "Why should they know all our musings?". All being well, this will be discussed next month.
  • Rankling shavers concocted various ways of making the technology work against itself. Picking up the razors - but not buying them - to create fake security incidents; redistributing items with RFID tags around the store; placing other goods on the razor shelf... or just not shaving.
  • And after a flurry of internet activity, there were protests and boycotts at Tesco. The protests made for more blogging and reportage, and so the Boston Globe noticed. Boston being Gillette's HQ.

And now the trial has been withdrawn. Kudos to all!


However, it's not just razor blades. The brainiacs at EDS would like to use RFID tags in Tube tickets. It's been mooted to put such tracking devices in currency. And proposed EU legislation with a terrifying name would make it a crime for consumers and citizens to move or tinker with these tags, effectively making them state-enforced bugs.


Tom MP also brought up the importance of the weblog in addressing issues that aren't yet News, thanking our semi-jocular post. His tech-literate LibDem colleague Richard Allan went on to help make a Channel 4 News item on RFID. And in this way, things get done. Richard MP puts it thus:

So, if I tag my socks and have a monitoring system that allows me to track them round my house (thus answering the age-old question about where the odd socks go at wash time) then this is fine. If Marks and Spencers tag socks and use these tags to track the goods around their stock system without any association with a person this is also fine. What is not fine is if Marks and Spencers hold data linking those socks to an identifiable individual and then using that data, which could include the tracking of movement, for purposes that are of no benefit to the individual.

Update: NTK have more linkage on the Tube plans.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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