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Wal-Mart Expands Use of RFID Tracking

Ed Oswald, BetaNews | September 13 2006

Despite the best efforts of privacy advocates, Wal-Mart pressed forward with its plans to use RFID, saying it planned to roll out the technology to another 500 stores during this fiscal year. The expansion would mean over a quarter of the company's 3,900-plus stores, including its Sam's Club subsidiary, would use RFID to manage its inventory.

Wal-Mart's moves have not been without controversy. When the company's plans were first detailed in 2003, there was a near-immediate negative reaction from privacy advocates. Groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation claimed RFID threatened privacy and civil liberties, possibly allowing Wal-Mart to track its customers without their knowledge.

The company denied such claims, saying it would only be used to reduce 'out-of-stocks' and control excess inventory - an assertion the company has again stressed in its most recent announcement.

"Recent internal analysis of our ongoing efforts reinforces the value of this technology for Wal- Mart, our suppliers and ultimately our customers," Wal-Mart chief information officer Rollin Ford said. "We're aggressively moving forward with the expansion of RFID-enabled facilities."

Ford took over as the retail giant's CIO in April, and told CNET News.com at the time that "there will be no slowing down. RFID will transform the way we do business." He also oversaw the company's migration from Gen1 to Gen2 RFID, which occurred over the summer.

In addition, Ford will work with Wal-Mart's next 300 largest suppliers beyond the 300 already using RFID technology. When these companies go live with RFID in January 2007, over 600 companies will be using the inventory tracking devices in their shipping cases.

"We continue to work with suppliers to help them see the vast potential of RFID," Ford said. "We're already fully convinced of its value and are ready to step up the pace since we know we are only touching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of this technology."

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