A new bar code being tested at a Dayton, Ohio grocery store will allow the tracking of individual purchases. Up until now store computers only knew when items were sold. Now, however, for the first time, they will have the ability to track to whom an item is sold. This new barcode promises to speed checkout for produce and other perishables. It is also being touted for its ability to allow grocery stores to notify consumers who purchased a recalled product. The recent “mad cow” scare or last years E-coli outbreaks are two recent examples. The Uniform Code Council, a private, New Jersey based group that standardizes and assigns bar codes, released the new bar code during a press demonstration this May. The mission of the Uniform Code Council, Inc. is to take a global leadership role in establishing and promoting multi-industry standards for product identification and electronic communications. Although the new bar code is smaller than existing ones, it has the ability to encode more information about goods, such as the manufacturer’s name, variety of the item and its expiration date. The code will also allow all produce to be electronically scanned. Dorothy Lanes, a grocery chain in Dayton, Ohio, are the only stores where the bar codes are being tested. They carry more than 300 varieties of fruits and vegetables.
The new code also stores information about meat, such as price, manufacturer, weight, batch number, and processing and expiration dates. During a recall, stores would know more quickly whether they’ve sold tainted goods, and to whom. The handy discount cards supplied by most grocers to shoppers could track an individual’s purchases of a particular product. The system lays the groundwork to trace products back to the source and forward to a specific consumer. Once it is fully implemented, supermarkets and suppliers will be able to accurately track products throughout the supply chain. Once again we find an utterly unexpected source of intrusion into our private lives. Perhaps it is a little premature of me to suggest that this specific information will be used and shared. Why else would it be collected? Could our shopping habits be of any use to anyone? Unfortunately, as long as someone is willing to pay for data on consumption of a particular product then it will be sold. Imagine the assumptions one could make from the contents of a grocery list? Perhaps this all sounds a bit too paranoid for reality. It is my view, however, that we must keep a watchful eye on the horizon. The intrusions into our privacy come in many forms. Who could have ever imagined that our financial histories would be public domain or that our driving records would be sold by Motor Vehicle Agencies nationwide. Would you have ever thought that your medical records would be gathered up and traded between mega-corporations? Well all this and more has come to pass. When they were gathering this information, you weren’t told it would be used in this way. Sometimes it is the most subtle developments that have the biggest impact.