the size of a grain of sand is attached to each product and - when
someone removes that product from a display - an instore CCTV camera
Civil liberties campaigners have criticised the experiment, and
protested outside the Cambridge-supermarket where it is being
carried out. They described the pilot, by Tesco, as an infringement
of privacy and called on shoppers to boycott the chain until it
drops the idea.
images are destroyed once a product passes through the checkout and
is paid for. Otherwise they can be retained to identify and possibly
prosecute thieves. Police are said to be "impressed" with the
quality of the images.
The products used in the trial are Gillette Mach 3 razor refills,
which are shoplifted more often and in greater quantity than any
other products in Europe. They cost up to £6.97 each, but can be
easily concealed because the packs are relatively small.
Marks & Spencer, Woolworths and Asda are said to be planning
to introduce the microchips, with many other stores expected to
But the technology has already provoked a backlash in the US.
Benetton dropped plans to use the chips in pullovers following a
threatened international boycott.
Outside the Tesco store in Cambridge, one protester, Damien
Lawson, warned: "If this trial is successful a broader range of
goods will be tagged.
"Tags could be buried in clothes and other items, and you could
be bristling with chips. You would be transmitting - without your
knowledge - personal information about where you shop, what you buy
and how you pay. This could be retrieved by anyone with the proper
He added: "If enough customers make their concerns known then we
hope Tesco will drop this."
Tesco spokesman Greg Sage said the scheme was designed to keep
track of products within
the store, and insisted that the chips would not be used once
those products left the premises.
He pledged: "We would never compromise the privacy of our
"The system was designed to improve the availability of products
to customers by enabling us to say exactly how many items are left
on the shelf. Also, it makes life easier for staff to track exactly
where items are."
The chips are in the packaging and will be discarded when the
customer unwraps the product, Mr Sage said.
"The chips can only be read within a Tesco store - and in any
case they only contain an eight-digit number, in the same way that a
barcode contains a number."