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Radio Tags in Tokyo to Bring Ads, Info

Stores in central Tokyo are set to beam news of special offers, menus and coupons to passers-by in a trial run of a radio-tagging system.

The Tokyo Ubiquitous Network Project, which launches in the glitzy Ginza district next month, sends shoppers information from nearby shops via a network of radio-frequency identification tags, infrared and wireless transmitters, according to the project's Web site.

Shoppers can either rent a prototype reader or get messages on their cell phones. The tags and transmitters identify a reader or phone's location and match it to information provided by shops.

RFID uses a tiny computer chip to store data, which are transmitted wirelessly by a tiny antenna to a receiver _ in this case, the reader or the phone.

The technology has raised concerns about the erosion of privacy in society.

Researchers, for instance, have suggested that a sensor designed by Nike Inc. and Apple Computer Inc. to keep track of running distances could also be used to track runners' whereabouts _ such as by installing readers along running paths. Others worry that tags embedded in clothing could give a retailer valuable details on how long a consumer spends trying on sweaters.

But RFID also offers benefits. The chips, embedded in tags, now track pallets in warehouses and let drivers pass toll booths without stopping. Some Japanese schools have installed it to log when students enter and leave _ serving as a warning system for children who skip class.

At Ginza, visitors can access maps and tourist information in five languages by bringing the reader close to radio tags on street lamps, according to project official Hiroaki Hajota.

"There has been a lot of interest from Ginza's stores," Hajota said. "In the future, we hope the system will be able to target specific types of users with tailored information."

The trial, supported by the city of Tokyo and the Transport Ministry, is scheduled to run from Jan. 21 to March 10.