Brushing your teeth may never be the same, because someone may be "watching" every move. Clothing, toiletry packaging, food containers and other products will soon be embedded with microchip transmitters and smart tags that will give marketers unprecedented access to consumers. Privacy groups are worried that the technology could lend itself to unauthorized customer monitoring.

The Gillette Co. (Boston) is beginning large-scale testing of breakthrough RFID tag technology developed by researchers at the Auto-ID Center, headquartered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, Cambridge, MA).

Starting this year in partnership with selected retail customers, Gillette will begin testing through its supply chain by placing tiny RFID tags in selected products for the U.S. market. If successful, up to half a billion tags could be placed in Gillette products over the next few years.

The tags make it possible to track products from manufacturing to retail point of sale. It is hoped that this technology will enable businesses to reduce losses resulting from out-of-stock, stolen or lost products, and to improve efficiency by monitoring the status and location of products.

Smart shelf technology, also developed by the Auto-ID Center at MIT, will be used with the tags. The shelf uses automatic identification technology to monitor the status of products on display, alerting retail staff to low stock or product theft, and enabling automatic reorder. Alien Technology Corp. (Morgan Hill, CA) is manufacturing the tags, and expects to supply Gillette with 500 million units.

Dick Cantwell, vice president of Gillette, says "We are proud to be at the forefront of the introduction of auto-ID technology and we hope our leadership will help enable the wider consumer packaged goods industry to open a new era in its relationship with retail customers."

Benetton Group (Treviso, Italy) clothing will also soon contain microchip transmitters that will allow the retailer to track its garments from their point of manufacture to the moment they are sold in any of its shops. The company’s Sisley line of clothing will contain a RFID tag from Philips Electronics (Amsterdam) that will replace bar codes, which have to be manually scanned.

Philips claims that its smart tags will be imperceptible to the wearer. An antenna-bearing chip smaller than a grain of rice will be attached to the clothes’ labels.