Bruce Sterling on Mon, 26 Nov 2001 02:41:43 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> FW: Wal-mart Tags Shoppers with Subcutaneous Cookies

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From: "futurefeedforward" <>
Date: Sun, 25 Nov 2001 10:53:45 -0800
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Subject: Wal-mart Tags Shoppers with Subcutaneous Cookies

November 18, 2009

Wal-mart Tags Shoppers with Subcutaneous Cookies

WALVILLE, ARK.--Responding to public requests from privacy advocates,
retailing giant Wal-mart agreed Wednesday to release details concerning a
newly-implemented system for tracking shoppers in its Wal-mart and Sam's
Club stores.  "We understand that there is some sensitivity surrounding this
initiative," notes Wal-mart spokesman Joel Scent, "And we want to be
entirely upfront and open about the program and the ways it will benefit our
shopping family.  We've been testing the system in a few pilot stores--we've
made no secret about that--and now, with that experience behind us, we're
ready to talk about the program."

    Tested over the past three months in 23 stores across the U.S., the
tagging system, known as the In-store Cookie System, or ICS, uses a
proprietary combination of electro-magnetic and channeled-particle beams to
produce a "persistent, informationally-significant, quantum-molecular
structured excitation" just beneath the surface of the skin.  "It's really
quite simple," explains Scent.  "The ICS muzzle is positioned with our
security cameras at a store's entrance.  As a shopper comes in, the system
sends out a series of invisible beams that harmlessly arranges some of the
molecules in her forehead.  Initially, the molecules are arranged to encode
some information, just a unique identifying number, but during the course of
the engagement the Cookie might be extended with some additional codes to
help us customize and improve the shopping experience."

    Stores making use of ICS are equipped throughout with camera-like
Cookie-readers capable of uniquely identifying and tracking shoppers as they
move through the store.  Shopper's movements are then translated into a
schematic of concatenated three-dimensional vectors and recorded in the ICS
database for later analysis.  Cookie-readers mounted in shelves, connected
wirelessly to the adaptive packaging of some products, enables products to
tailor their pitches based on assumptions derived from customers' shopping
trajectories.  "It was a little eerie," notes a shopper in a Chicago pilot
store.  "I guess it was because I was in the baby aisle first, but
everywhere I went all the boxes started having pictures of cute babies on
them.  I even saw a Pillsbury Doughbaby.  And everything seemed to say 'Safe
for your Baby,' or something like that, in big, bright letters."

    Besides enabling products to tailor their packaging, ICS, used in
conjunction with adaptive price tags, enables stores to offer special
bargains to shoppers, and even to offer lower prices to shoppers whose
trajectories suggest indecision.  "The real benefit to shoppers is that the
information we gather through ICS will help us offer shopper-specific
bargain bundles of related products," notes Scent.  "Say the system sees
that a shopper has been looking at boy's clothing and has also been in
automotive fixtures, now, with adaptive packaging, we can add a little
coupon on that underwear package for a discount on a Hot Wheels car or

    Critics of ICS point to just such customized bargains as one of the
system's many drawbacks.  "There's a reason they call it 'price
discrimination,'" exclaims Coalition for Economic Justice chairman Silas
Lift.  "Besides being a deep invasion of privacy, Wal-mart's tag-and-track
system will result in the worst sort of red-lining.  Those who can buy more
will get better prices while those who can't afford to will simply pay

    A number of critics also point to reported inadequacies in the 'opt-out'
method implemented in the test stores.  "To opt-out you've got to wear this
ridiculous yellow hat that says 'OPT-OUT' in big black letters," notes
Anonymous League president June Clever.  "It turns out that the test stores
kept these hats behind a counter and most shoppers didn't even know about
them.  We've also heard stories about inadequate supplies of hats.  We at
the League are advocating a switch to an 'opt-in' hat to be worn by shoppers
who clearly consent to data collection."

    Wal-mart plans to begin worldwide rollout of ICS early next year, and is
in early negotiations to license the system to partner retailers and


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