[LINK] RFID Tags - Pesky Privacy Advocates Delay Nirvana
Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au
Tue Apr 27 09:08:09 EST 2004
[Article first; notes at the end]
Your tag's showing - a lot
By Graeme Philpson
April 27, 2004
The Sydney Morning Herald
Technology versus privacy. It's more than a battle, it's a war. And
it's hotting up.
Scott McNealy, the head of Sun Microsystems, famously said a couple
of years ago: "You have no privacy - get over it." He overstated the
case a little but it is a valid point of view. McNealy's point is
that technology has advanced to such a state that all of our actions
are tracked electronically, that we may as well give up trying to
protect our privacy and enjoy the advantages of technology.
Privacy is, after all, a relatively recent concept. In the Middle
Ages, as in much of the developing world now, there was little
personal privacy. But affluence has brought privacy, and now people
regard it as a right, not a privilege, and the voice of privacy
advocates is strong. They win some battles, lose others. But this new
battle promises to be the biggest yet.
The battle is over the rapid proliferation of RFID (radio frequency
identification) tags for merchandising. RFID tags are tiny (about the
size of a grain of sand) microchips that can be attached to any item,
such as a tube of toothpaste or an item of clothing, and which can
transmit details of that item's location for up to 20 years.
Retailers around the world are implementing RFID technology as a
replacement for bar codes. Many people today do not realise the
extent to which bar codes revolutionised retailing and supply chain
management over the past 20 years. RFID offers the potential for even
RFID has many technological advantages over bar codes. A bar code
contains about 100 bytes of information, a RFID tag can contain 80
times more, allowing the tags to contain individual item numbers,
where a bar code is typically limited to the product code. They can
also be modified, allowing details of the sale to be recorded on them
at the time of purchase. Think about it.
RFID tags do not depend on line of sight, and can be read through
walls or clothing. They can transmit their information to any RFID
reader, using power picked up from that reader, and operate in a much
greater range of environmental conditions than bar codes.
No wonder retailers love them - and privacy advocates hate them.
Their relatively high cost has kept them out of most retail
situations until now, but lately, the price is plummeting. They now
cost less than 40 cents each, and the price is predicted to drop to
about two cents over the next couple of years. Last year, razor
manufacturer Gillette bought 500 million RFID tags for use with its
Consumer reaction has already begun. Last year, clothing retailer
Benetton was forced to back down on a plan to include RFID tags on
all its clothing, and German supermarket chain Metro stopped the
introduction of RFID-enabled loyalty cards after protests. Now the
retailing lobby has started to play dirty.
In January, US anti-RFID activist Karen Albrecht was asked to
provide her CV to industry body Grocery Manufacturers of America
(GMA). When she asked why, she was erroneously sent an internal email
that disclosed that the GMA was attempting to see if she had a "juicy
past that we could use against you".
The GMA since apologised to Albrecht, blaming the email on the
"youthful indiscretion" of an intern (useful people, interns). The
apology said the bio request was "simply part of a normal effort to
obtain information about those who lead organisations with an
interest in industry issues". They would say that, wouldn't they?
Albrecht's organisation CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket
Privacy Invasion and Numbering) clearly has retailers worried. Her
campaign started with protests against loyalty schemes
(www.nocards.org) but her focus is now on RFID (www.spychips.com).
Albrecht and others like her are having some effect. There is an
increased belief that RFID technology is fine in warehouses and shops
but that its use should stop there. The International Conference of
Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners, held in Australia last
November, adopted a resolution on the subject, basically indicating
that RFID-based retailing systems should comply with all privacy laws
regarding consent and subsequent usage of any data collected.
Australia's Coles Myer and Woolworths chains are trialling the
technology but in the US retail giant Walmart has mandated it. And
just a couple of weeks ago, Microsoft formed its own RFID council to
ensure its partners use RFID is such a way that it can be
incorporated into future Microsoft products.
Clearly, RFID is a technology whose time has come. But whose vision
of the future will win out - Scott McNealy's or Karen Albrecht's?
[Nice tag-line (so to speak), and a decent analysis. Pity it adopts
the anti-social values of the pro-technology-industry lobby. Public
interest advocates are viewed as political obstacles, rather than as
people drawing attention to the harm that inappropriate uses of
technology do to people, and presenting arguments that demand at
least as much attention as McNeely's ravings]
Roger Clarke http://www.anu.edu.au/people/Roger.Clarke/
Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 78 Sidaway St, Chapman ACT 2611 AUSTRALIA
Tel: +61 2 6288 1472, and 6288 6916
mailto:Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au http://www.xamax.com.au/
Visiting Professor in the eCommerce Program, University of Hong Kong
Visiting Professor in the Baker Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre, U.N.S.W
Visiting Fellow in Computer Science, Australian National University
More information about the Link