Gillette Backs Off Plans to Include Tracking Device on Products
Aug 14, 2003
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Gillette has backed away from recent plans to use a controversial new technology that retailers hoped would prevent shoplifting and revolutionize stock control, according to a report from

The personal care appliance maker had been the most enthusiastic supporter of the technology, which would involve planting a tiny computer chip in product packaging. By emitting a radio signal that carried a unique identifier, it would be possible to track every pack of the company's razor blades or batteries.

In January the company ordered 500m chips, known as radio frequency (RF) ID tags, to be delivered this year by Alien Technology, a California, U.S.-based technology firm.

Gillette denied it had abandoned an earlier plan to use the technology in individual products on store shelves, but a spokesman said the company did not expect RF ID tags to be used to monitor individual products in stores for at least 10 years.

The chips will instead be planted in pallets and cases so that batches of products can be tracked between the factory and the store, the company said.

Controversy surrounded complaints that the chips would infringe shoppers' privacy and could be used to track products even after they left stores.

One early test undertaken in Cambridge, England by UK retailer Tesco ignited protests last month after it emerged that the store was automatically photographing consumers as they took Gillette razors from the shelf. Customers were secretly photographed again when they left the store with the RF ID-tagged products.

Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, last month dropped a planned trial of similar "smart shelf" technology with Gillette razors. It said the decision reflected a change of strategy rather than privacy concerns.

The retailer switched its focus to back-room stock management, urging its main suppliers to consider using the chips to monitor the movement of pallets and cases of their products.

In a press release last January, Gillette said it would test RF ID technology in retail stores, adding: "If successful, up to half a billion tags could be placed on Gillette products over the next few years."

The tags would "alert retail staff when stocks become low or are being stolen and will enable automatic re-ordering of products," the company said at the time.

The cost of RF ID tags, which operate like invisible wireless barcodes, is not low enough yet to make it economic to put them in individual products like razors, a spokeswoman for Alien Technology said. (

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