The bar-code is dead, courtesy of Wal-Mart. It’ll be a RFID world from now on

The bar-code is dead, courtesy of Wal-Mart. It’ll be a RFID world from now on

Anyone who doubts that we will soon be living in a RFID-tagged world should read this report from the NYT. Quote:

“Some consumer products companies will have to invest millions of dollars to comply with Wal-Mart’s drive to have every carton and palette it receives carry a radio identification tag, according to a report to be released today by A. T. Kearney, a consulting firm.

“It’s a big item that most of them have not budgeted for,” said David Dannon, vice president for the consumer industries and retail products practice at Kearney, a Chicago-based subsidiary of Electronic Data Services.

The technology, known as radio-frequency identification, or RFID, has been used to track containers on trains and ships and in automatic toll systems like E-ZPass. In its new form, it is seen as the long-term successor to bar codes in the retail industry. Radio tags can carry more information about the product, can be scanned more rapidly and can be found even if they are hidden in cartons or behind other products.

Wal-Mart said in June that it expected its top 100 suppliers to adopt the technology by the end of 2004 and the rest of its suppliers to do so in 2005. In late September, the Department of Defense said it would also require major suppliers to use such tags by the end of 2004.”

The Times story is all about the cost to companies of investing in this new technology. But the real cost will be a social one because RFID offers unimaginable opportunities for surveillance — as I discussed some time ago here and here.