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Tags in Victoria’s Secret bras are for inventory, not consumer tracking

June 29, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: Video shows Victoria’s Secret clothing tags have a chip in them that tracks buyers after they purchase a product.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The tiny barcode-like tag highlighted in the video is actually an ultra high frequency device used to track inventory in the store, said Justin Patton, director of a radio- frequency identification — RFID — lab at Auburn University. The passive UHF RFID technology has been used for more than a decade to track inventory in retail stores, but it isn’t functional outside the range of in-store RFID readers.

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THE FACTS: Millions of TikTok users viewed the video: a woman cuts open the tag of a Victoria’s Secret bra to reveal a flimsy, partially transparent, metallic chip inside of it.

“Today I found out that Victoria’s Secret tracks you,” says a voice on the clip, which has been played more than 24 million times since it was posted on June 27. 

By Monday, the video was also being shared on Twitter, including by an account linked to the conspiracy theory QAnon.

“Now why on God’s green earth would @VictoriasSecret have a chip placed in their bra’s?” stated one Twitter user posting the clip. “Tracking female for what exactly? I do not want to know but I think I already know what their evil purpose is for this.... @NSAGov @fbi #QAnon.”

But Patton, a researcher who studies RFID technology used in retail stores, explained that the actual purpose for the tag is far more benign.

“That is a passive UHF RFID tag,” Patton said. “They are commonly used in retail for counting inventory. However, most UHF tags have no use after purchase, and can be removed after purchase.”

Retail stores including Victoria’s Secret, Walmart, Target, Nike and others have used RFID tags for years to speed up inventory management. 

Instead of having to scan each item’s barcode individually, stores use RFID readers to pick up radio waves from the tags at a speed of around 400 tags per second, Patton said.

That said, the technology has a limited range — readers can only pick up RFID information if they are within about 15 feet from the RFID tag. Since the tags have no batteries, they only function when being scanned by a reader. 

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RFID tags also don’t work well near water or metal, so they wouldn’t function well if in contact with a human body, according to Patton.

“I can’t think of how anyone could use those maliciously,” he said.

A spokesperson with Victoria’s Secret said the technology helps assure that the right products are available to customers.

“We only use this technology in our back room and sales floors to help us manage inventory so that our associates can efficiently support our customers’ needs,” said the spokesperson, who declined to be identified by name.

The company also tweeted in response to the false claim: “Like many other retailers, we use this technology to help us manage inventory. The products can only be ‘tracked’ while in our stores. This helps us deliver a great store experience to ensure we have the right products available for our customers.”

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536