Spywear © Anne Tatalin 2003

George Orwell may have been all wrong about the date, but I think he was more of a visionary than anyone imagined. CASPIAN, or Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering, recently called for a boycott against clothing manufacturer Benetton when it was revealed they were going to be placing tiny rice sized microchips into their Sisley line.

Imagine…you’re not just buying a piece of clothing anymore. You have to register it now as well. Does that mean everything in your closet will need to have a title? What if you have a garage sale? If I sell you my coat do I need to sign it over to you? Think of this tiny rice like transmitter in your shirt collar shouting to databases all over the world-your name, social security number, height, weight, sexual orientation, political party affiliation and credit rating and similar information.

Phillips, the electronics giant, says it suffered a great loss when Benetton backed off the proposed microchip insertion. They were poised to send 15 million of the little bugs to the Italian clothing manufacturer. Benetton says it had never formalized these plans and had only purchased 200 or so, just to study. Yeah, right.

Now, I’m a good sport about those little savings cards they issue in the grocery stores I frequent. I don’t buy guns, ammo, porn or very much liquor so I don’t have anything to hide. If it pleases someone out there to know what brand of toilet paper I prefer, that I drink Coke and not Pepsi, that someone out here really does like alfalfa sprouts, that my kids eat way too much sugar and that I like my peanut butter creamy-and-not-crunchy-thank-you-very-much, then have at it. But I don’t think I’m going to like it very much when I walk into Krispy Kreme and they refuse me a chocolate iced ring because they’re looking at my latest cholesterol levels on their cash registers.

What does Benetton want to know and why? How will that information benefit them or build a better Benetton garment? Early reports indicate it is a simple tracking device. I suppose there are some folks that would be fun to follow around…Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Garth, Tom Cruise or Russell Crowe. But by and large, I suspect that most of their customers are just regular folk.

Then again, those fellows in Italy might get a kick out of tracking their fancy clothes around Charleston. Oh, of course, there’ll be the occasional night at the Clay Center. They’ll learn a lot about Wal-Mart and all-you-can-eat restaurants, won’t they? Chances are they will admire our do-it-yourself attitude as their sweaters flock in and out of the local home improvement centers.

“What is this place, Myrtle Beach?” they’ll ask themselves, scratching their heads, “And why are they drawn there?” Will their findings determine what they stock the local store with or what new patterns and colors they’ll use?

“Ah, Giovanni…I see the new camouflage line is ready for West Virginia! Primo!”

I imagine it will be confusing to them when the item of clothing containing the microchip gets just a bit too tattered and instead is used to wax your brother-in-law’s three-quarter ton pick-up with bed liner and mud flaps. But that’s what you get for being nosey.

Technology when it saves lives, improves the quality of life and proves useful in similar applications is a welcome thing. When it’s in the waistband of my britches following behind (literally) everywhere I go…it’s over-share. Folks deserve to choose the personal information they share and with whom they share it. A small investment in a pricey skirt or sweater should not give anyone the right to glimpse into another’s life.

Just the same, shopping for new clothes will never be the same again. I’ll be checking my purchases very carefully.


This page was created May 7, 2003.