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Consumer Distorts

A recent article in "Consumer Reports" about the possible use of RFID to invade people's privacy does a disservice to consumers.
By Mark Roberti
Tags: Privacy
The most shameless part of the piece is how the author uses a blunder by Alien Technology's public relations firm. Linda Prosser, Alien's VP of corporate marketing, was contacted by the author for an interview. Prosser sent a message to her outside PR firm, saying she was concerned that it might be a privacy story and didn't want to commit to an interview by Alien executives until she had a better feel for it. She gave the PR firm an excuse to use to get out of committing to an interview. The PR person mistakenly forwarded the e-mail string to the reporter, who quotes Prosser's e-mail: "We can use the 'everybody's busy at the big trade show' excuse."

Anyone who has been in the industry for more than five minutes knows that Prosser was not trying to hide anything—she was obviously just trying to avoid a situation in which her company would be presented in a bad light by a journalist with no interest in fairness or the facts. And ultimately, the author proved Linda had good reason to be wary.

The result? Misinformed readers.

It bothers me that journalists assume the worst about everyone in business and in our industry. There are good businesspeople and bad, just as we see there are good journalists and bad. It's easy to be self-righteous when you wield the pen.

The bigger issue here, though, is how this story—from a well-respected publication designed to help consumers—instead hurts them. People who could receive a lot of benefits from RFID—fresher food, less expensive consumer electronics, safer drugs, and on and on and on—are not being informed about the consumer benefits of the technology, or about the work being done to ensure the protection of consumer privacy.

The industry is being put in a position where it is difficult to respond (if you do, you're accused of being defensive)—and yet, you can't avoid the issue (evasiveness is equated with having something to hide). Dan Mullen, president of AIM Global, the trade association for automatic identification technology providers, has written a good article, "RFID: For the Common Good," which puts RFID in perspective and offers the industry's point of view. Cynical journalists might say he's trying to convince consumers to accept something that could be bad for them. Cynical journalists would be wrong.

But what else is new?

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below.

USER COMMENTS

William Penrose 2006-05-18 07:03:32 PM
Consumer Distorts? Putting a paper bag over your head and announcing that RFID is no threat to privacy is begging for trouble. The fact is that RFID tags can be used for illegal or immoral purposes, including government snooping. If the industry doesn't address this issue, consumers are pretty soon going to become aware of the potential for abuse, and they are going to bite you in the butt. How many women, for example, are aware of the potential use of RFID tags by stalkers and abusive ex-husbands? When they find out, all hell is going to break loose. You better be ready with something more than smart remarks. Merely hurling sarcasm and abuse at whistleblowers isn't going to help. W Penrose

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