Yet more intrusive surveillance to destroy our privacy


I accept that businesses need to follow their goods through the supply chain, from ordering through shipping to arrival at their stores.  However, until now there’s been a cutoff point:  when a customer buys the item, it’s normally not been tracked out of the store into their homes, and while they’re using it.  There’s been at least a pretense of privacy.

That may be changing with a new tracking technology.

Wiliot, based in Caesarea, Israel, is one of a growing number of companies building tools aimed at monitoring goods as they move through distribution channels. The company says its tags are small and cheap enough for use in the many crates and carriers agriculture shippers use to get their products to markets.

. . .

The size of the devices is aimed at solving a gray area in supply chains. Typically, goods are tracked through devices in shipping containers and truck trailers, but because of the expense the technology is less common in smaller shipments.

“Now, everyday things, very ordinary things, our clothing, vaccine vials, plastic crates, plastic pallets, cardboard boxes, bags of lettuce—all of that will be linked to the internet,” said Stephen Statler, Wiliot’s senior vice president of marketing.

The tags don’t require batteries, cost 10 cents apiece and are connected to the cloud by Bluetooth, Mr. Statler said.

. . .

The tracking at the crate level could also provide a safeguard against theft, Wiliot says, because of the visibility the tags provide … “The ability to see in real time that every crate of fruit and vegetables are being kept at the right temperature throughout the transportation process and to know exactly how much time has elapsed since they were harvested in the field until it arrives at the branch is nothing short of revolutionary,” said Zvika Fishheimer, Shufersal’s executive vice president.

There’s more at the link.

This will undoubtedly help companies in all the ways listed in the article.  However, if the tags are so small (and will undoubtedly get smaller as technology improves), there’s nothing to stop any company embedding them into products in such a way that consumers won’t notice them, and therefore won’t remove them after purchasing their goods.  That means manufacturers (and anyone else prepared to pay for the information) can see where the goods go after purchase, how they’re treated, the environmental conditions in which they’re kept or used (e.g. the temperature at which you keep your home), and a host of other information.  All that could be collected without your knowing anything about it.  It might even extend to outsiders being able to inventory the contents of your pantry or closet.  Consider how a company or bureaucrat might use such information:

  • “Hey – this guy’s got two dozen cans of corned beef.  He must be a prepper!  If an emergency arises, we can confiscate his food stash!”
  • “Hello, ma’am.  This is your private investigator speaking.  On his last three business trips, your husband bought packets of condoms and took them back to his hotel.  We tracked them.  He didn’t take them home with him.”
  • “Bob’s got ten guns and several thousand rounds of ammunition.  They don’t show up on official records, so he must be buying them privately or in small amounts.  When it’s time to confiscate citizens’ weapons, he’ll be a good place to start.”
  • “Mary has a lot of medications in her bathroom.  Putting them together, we’ve got a pretty good idea of her probable medical condition.  She’s not a good risk for life insurance, so let’s decline her application.”

Get the idea?

Pretty soon we’re going to be living in a society where nothing whatsoever is private, and privacy restrictions are respected in the breach rather than the observance.  I grew up in a world where personal privacy was respected, and I absolutely loathe the prospect of giving this sort of access to the details of my life to anyone . . . but I guess people like me are in a minority these days.



  1. Nice try but sorry, no.
    These devices get their power from the reader. They are very low power so cannot transmit very far. Therefore, the reader must be in very close proximity. Yes, if a reader is brought into your root cellar, they can scan your canned goods. Other than that, nope.

  2. RFID tags have been embedded in tires for years, and there is speculation that Gov't toll booths have readers to be able to track them.

    A list of manufacturers who put RFID tags in their tires.

    This is just expanding the reach of RFID tags to other products.

  3. @Stuart: There have already been discoveries of "malware" (is it malware if the Government plants it???) on people's cellphones that can use the phone's Bluetooth function to interrogate such tracking devices and forward the information to a designated address, all without the phone's owner being aware of it.

  4. Until very recently, I considered claims that the novel Covid vaccines contained tiny specks of material enabling tracking and even "mind control" to be paranoid nonsense. While still skeptical, I will no longer dismiss such claims out of hand as prima facie evidence of insanity and move them to the "unproven, but keep an eye out for future developments" column.

  5. There's a whole lot of freight that gets stolen that if tracked puts the criminal behind bars. The 'on star' equivelent is in a lot of vehicles and trailers used to haul freight. You would be surprised where your municpality's vehicles are during the the day. With $5 gas you sure want to make sure city employees are screwing around on the job. And yes, such tracking can get abused.

  6. You make a detector and go to one of these crowd funding sites to get the capital to put it into production.

  7. "Blogger Steve S said…
    That will make for a brisk market in some gadget that fries RFID tags."

    The real killer app will be the gadget that does it without destroying the merchandise.

    Otherwise a microwave oven would work for smaller items.

  8. Hmmmm. Wonder what it would take to build a detector and fryer into my front door frame sometime in the future.

  9. "…can see where the goods go after purchase,.."
    you're only assuming the goods are purchased. it'd be a great way to track goods that have been looted, stolen, ad inf.

    1. If they can track stolen goods that way, they can track purchased goods that way. Which is Peter's point. Thankfully the comments seem to indicate we're not quite there yet. Still too close for comfort for me though.

  10. bluetooth does not just 'connect to the Internet', it needs to connect to a computer (typically a mobile device) and have an app running there to talk to the bluetooth device and to the Internet.

    bluetooth is also rather weak and short ranged.

    So this doesn't give the manufacturer the ability to track where the devices are anywhere in the world, only detect them in a smallish area that they are scanning.

    Apple airtags do this by having every Apple device automatically running the app and reporting to the mothership.

    All this said, it is possible to build an antenna system that will detect bluetooth devices from longer range, but from your sidewalk to inside your house (through walls) is still fairly difficult. This isn't a matter of being able to pick things up by just driving through your neighborhood at normal speed.

    If you are interested in this sort of risk, here's an interesting tidbit for you, the tire pressure sensors on your car are bluetooth, and each has a unique id, so you can be tracked by them showing up in an area if something is sniffing for bluetooth broadcasts.

    NFC tags are even more short range, millimeters not feet, and your bank/credit cards now include NFC capability.

    David Lang

  11. Fun fact: Your car's tire sensors also rebroadcast other bluetooth signals. In heavy city traffic, car tires can reliably relay signals for more than a half mile.

  12. @McChuck
    are you sure about that? very few bluetooth devices relay anything. I also don't see any benefit in tire pressure sensors doing so (especially considering the hit it would make to battery life)

    I'd want to see some documentation.

    Bluetooth is normally a connection-based protocol and devices have a limited number of slots for things they will talk to (IIRC 7 plus the master)

    David Lang

  13. David got it right.

    The range of these things especially those that require external excitation (RFID reader) is extremely short, some might go a foot or three but from outside the house not likely unless you live in a smallish dog house.

    I know this by actually being a designer and working with the tech.
    Yes it gets smaller, problem with smaller is it needs an antenna
    and smaller antennas are inefficient and the ranges they produce are accordingly smaller.

    Oh and none of them even the ones that can talk internet can do it from any distance like the apple tags, they require a phone or similar device withing a small (maybe yards) distance to get
    its weak signal and put that on the internet to the host.

    FYI the whole chip in a vaccine is really absurd, it has to fit though a fine bore needle and that makes it literally thousandths
    of an inch in size with a stupidly smaller antenna. I doubt that could be seen with a MRI machine. However the vaccine package is chipped (rfid tag) incase it has to be recalled or verified its
    the real mccoy, its part of the external packaging.

    FYI most are dumb, they only have a unique code. Those that
    can measure things need a battery or power source. Best example
    of that is the blood sugar detectors that stick your body and get interrogated at near point blank range by the phone. Why does the phone need to be so close, small battery that has to last not less
    than two weeks (medical device, must not fail during usage period) and small antenna.

    Is there a slippery slope, damn yes. Are we there for somethings conditional weak maybe, most fall in the range of still has to
    be worth doing due to cost. Tagging a stick of gum is not, the
    pallet of gum packages however is. It is easy to fit a RFID
    in the hem of a suit, but those need to be within 3ft of a
    reader to be interrogated like that double rail thing at the
    store entrance/exit. Someone that close on my property would
    be hard to miss.

    FYI the tire pressure sensors have a matching set of sensors
    to detect them close by. A few feet is about it and only
    when active (low pressure or flat condition). When inactive
    they are quiet to preserve the little power they have. At
    5 to 10 years old they need to be refreshed or they stop
    working if you get a flat.

    Most of the claims are based on spy movies or other fiction.
    So lets not imbue the devices with capabilities not in
    existence using materials that are scarce (scarce=not cheap)
    due to the covid and all making the costs likely much higher
    than pennies. Also an olive transmitter in a Martini has
    nearly zero range (ok 22 inches) I built one for laughs.

    Detecting it is easy. Stores already disable theirs so you
    don't get snagged for shoplifting when you leave. Still
    occasionally that burps and you have to toddle back to
    the checkout and get it cleared.


  14. bluetooth is designed for a 10m (~30 ft) range under ideal conditions (i.e. no walls between you and it), low power bluetooth is shorter range

    NFC is <1 inch range, try it with a security badge reader, see how far you can be from the sensor and have it read (recognizing that the sensor is a bit of distance from the plastic casing)

    as for anti-theft tags, see for a good video on how they work.

    remember, anything that's been in use for more than a few years isn't going to be using anything close to cutting-edge technology, so even if you see someone build something in a lab or youtube video showing something is possible, remember that by the time something can be mass produced it's several years behind the cutting-edge technology.

    David Lang

  15. Eck is correct. Having said that, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is becoming more and more common as a control protocol for things. Which is fine except that BLE is being used to control secure things and the protocol typically isn't used properly for security applications. The worst example recently was the use BLE of to break into a Tesla trick, but there are many others, including insecure dildos (no you do not need more info).

  16. @ David Lang et al –

    Yes, I am absolutely positive. I've seen the test.

    "Rebroadcast" is a setting on many Bluetooth devices (fortunately not normally in use). Tires/wheels use it because of the mass of metal in the body and frame, so all the signals get to the computer.

    – former Technical Surveillance Countermeasures (TSCM) Special Agent

  17. By the way, Bluetooth signals have a range of 3-10 meters with cheap home grade receivers. They can be picked up quite easily at 100 meters with a decent antenna and receiver.

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