The basket case for RFID

Wednesday, 7 July 2004, 1:34 PM EST

I'm in a supermarket called the Extra Future Store in Rheinberg, Germany, 40 kilometers north of Düsseldorf, jonesing for a bit of Philadelphia cream cheese. I feed my request into the touchscreen console on my shopping cart, and up pops a map showing the optimal path to the dairy section. I steer over and grab a box - regular in name but far smarter than the average cream cheese. The package carries a computer chip that talks to a 2-millimeter-thin pad lining the shelf under the box. When I pick up the cheese, sensors in the pad notify the store's database that the box has been removed. I exchange the plain for the mit Kräuter (with herbs) then, wracked with indecision, snag the low-fat version. It turns out it's not really all that low-fat anyhow, so I put it back down. My waffling will produce a flurry of data back at Kraft Foods headquarters. The company, which gets this information in return for subsidizing the smart shelf and the microchips attached to the packages, will use the data to analyze my behavior. The marketing department will likely draw some kind of conclusion from my skittishness - a hint that maybe "low-fatness" is too Spartan a theme for a hedonistic schmear anyway. Of course, they'll also have serious insight into my personal shopping habits.

By Josh McHugh at Wired.

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