It's no secret that our 21st century supermarkets are tracking us. The loyalty programs that get us those sweet deals on our favorite items document every item we purchase, and create a consumer profile. Those coupons that get spit out after you complete a transaction? They are generated based on the items you bought literally two seconds ago. It's that instantaneous.

They aren't stopping there, though, Now there's a way for supermarkets to see exactly what we have purchased, when we purchased it, and even what we haven't purchased (but briefly considered doing so). 

Introducing radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. Found in the form of a label on the outside of a specific item, they contain a radio signal that zaps a unique digitally encoded identifier signal per the electronic product code (EPC) to a remote receiver. In layman's terms, each food item has its own trackable radio signal. That signal allows the authorized party (usually the food distributor or grocery store managers) to follow the tagged item from place to place and monitor its condition. 

Blue and Purple RFID tag

midnightcomm on Flickr

Looks familiar, right? They're usually found on the packages of processed foods, because slapping one of these bad boys onto the skin a big shiny apple isn't all that appealing to the eye. Now the tags have been developed to be so small, they can be adhered to nearly any item sold at the supermarket — even that tiny oval label on an apple.

The point behind these RFID tags being used in supermarkets is to help keep track of items (i.e. prevent theft), indicate what needs to be restocked, and monitor expiration dates. The issue, though, is that these tags can also track who bought the item, when the item was bought, and where the shopper travelled throughout the store after putting an item with the RFID tag in the cart.

I mean, we all knew our privacy was pretty much out the window, down the street and onto the next block, but this technology takes it to a new level. Food distributors and supermarket executives are able to track consumers and dig deeper into our habits deeper than they have ever been able to before. On one hand, it's a great marketing strategy. On the other, it's restricting our true freedom of consumer choice.

beer, cheese
Amanda Gray

Now, people whom I've never and probably will never meet are sitting in offices watching me maneuver my way throughout a grocery store. They know I picked up that can of pumpkin spice latte-flavored beer, said "ew" to myself, and promptly returned it to its place on the shelf. They know I buy way more Talenti gelato than any human being should. 

All of this data helps food distributors decide how much of each product they're going to send out. By monitoring our purchasing patterns, they know what we tend to buy and will then produce more of it. It's kind of like watching a news channel that reports with a perspective you already agree with — there's no new information (or in this case, no new food) being introduced. We are involuntarily being forced into choosing a monotonous diet. How's that for "freedom" of choice?

In a way, we are all unknowingly acting as lab rats for a corporate strategizing experiment. This creepy way we're being tracked and documented while just trying to buy a carton of milk is kind of unsettling. I don't know about you, but I can't recall ever signing a waiver of my right to privacy when I last entered the supermarket. Just let me shop in peace, please.