First loyalty cards, now spy chips. The leading British supermarket, Tesco, has taken another step forward in its mission to collect every possible item of data about its customers: it is trialling the insertion of RFID chips into its products.

What are RFID chips, the innocent shopper may ask? Well, RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. Essentially they’re spy devices. No bigger than a grain of sand, they enable the store to monitor exactly what and where the product is.

Tesco have already experimented with these chips. Eighteen months ago, they placed them inside Gillette razor packets. The chips triggered a hidden camera under the shelf to take a photo of the shopper picking up the product. This move was in violation of an internationally agreed moratorium on RFID experimentation.

The latest trials are taking place in Tesco’s Sandhurst and Leicester stores. The only notice the supermarket is giving its customers of the trial is worded thus:


Not quite the comprehensive warning consumer groups might have expected.

Eventually, the RFID industry hopes that the technology will replace barcodes. The chips will be embedded in anything from clothing to magazines to household products. It means anyone with the correct reader device will be able to tell exactly what you’re wearing and carrying the moment you walk into a room. And anyone living in the “developed” world will be able to imagine the implications RFID technology could have for increased corporate control of people’s lives.

This isn’t science fiction; it’s happening now. What are your thoughts?

(Key points and photo taken from Indymedia and Spychips.com, which provide a much more detailed examination of the issue. There is also a general overview of RFID technology here.)