Buying Surveillance

I walked into into the store quietly, but it became clear early on that anonymity was going to evade me today. The sales clerk looked up from her terminal, gave me a big smile and said eagerly: "Hello Mr. Anderson!"

Although I normally enjoy personalized service, this greeting bothered me. I had never been into this store before and I'd never met this particular store clerk. I was sure that I'd never met her before because I found her singularly attractive and I was sure that if I'd ever run across her before, I'd have remembered it.

I smiled and nodded politely then wandered aimlessly through the store. In time, I ended up in front of the attractive salesperson and the perfumes. None of the perfume brands made any difference to me. I picked one up at random and asked the sales clerk what she thought of it. She gave a rather knowing "Oooh!", and asked me to wait a moment. She played with her terminal for a few seconds then reached into the glass counter to pull out a bottle of "Free Air".

"What's so special about this brand?" I asked.

"It's Sarah's favorite, Mr. Anderson", she cooed.

After a moment of surprise and confusion, I said "I think you must have the wrong Mr. Anderson. My wife's name is Kattie".

"That's right. Sarah is a co-worker of yours, isn't she?" She looked down at her terminal again. "Sarah .. Mead?"

"And why would I be buying perfume for a workmate?" I challenged.

"Well..." said the clerk, as she played with her terminal. "All the clothes you're wearing were bought by yourself except for your underwear which was bought by Sarah one week ago, and your birthday is almost 6 months away. Your wife's birthday is 4 months away and your wedding anniversary was 2 months ago.

I could feel my jaw drop, but she continued oblivious (she was obviously enjoying this).

"You never shop here, and neither does your wife. Sarah, on the other hand does and "Free Air" is her favorite perfume. In fact, she's likely to be buying another bottle in the next month or so, so this purchase should really impress her."

"How do you know all of this?"

"Oh, It's our new sales information system. I'm just getting to really know it. It correlates the information from past purchases and credit card transactions and uses AI systems to pull the whole stack of information into something that the average sales person can use.... I just came back from a training session. You'd be shocked at the kinds of information that they can pull together and correlate"

"Wrong tense. But you still haven't explained how you know where my shorts came from."

"RFID tags," she answered as if those two words should explain all. The blank look on my face must have confused her. She looked down at the screen again. It probably mentioned something about the 6 years of Third World development work because she let out a soft "Oh!" of recognition and then continued.

"Radio frequency ID" They're what replaced bar codes. The big difference is that RFID tags can be read at up to 6 feet, and they're able to identify not just brands and models but even individual items. We have a scanner at the door for anti-shoplifting, but this new sales system reads information as you walk in too."

The cat-ate-the-canary smile on her face was both alluring and annoying.


"Well, thank you for that very illuminating tutorial," I said. Recognizing my defeat, I reached into my wallet to make payment.

For the first time since I had walked in, she was the one who looked uncomfortable. It was almost satisfying until she opened her mouth. "Uhm, could I suggest Visa? Your Master-Card is pretty much at it's limit."

"Ah, right. Thanks for the warning."

I paid cash.

©2003 Stephen Samuel


$Log: surveil.html,v $
Revision 1.3 2003/10/29 06:57:38 samuel
RFID fix.

Revision 1.2 2003/10/20 13:49:38 samuel
3rd world development ref.

Revision 1.1 2003/10/20 13:42:28 samuel
Initial revision