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It's Time to Address Privacy

The industry needs to come together to educate consumers, journalists and privacy advocates—and end users—about RFID technologies.
By Mark Roberti
Sep 17, 2006By Mark Roberti

Katherine Albrecht, founder of Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering (CASPIAN), was quoted in a recent Globe and Mail article (see Who's Watching the Watchers?) as saying: "Promoters have a lot more funding these days to make their case. Privacy advocates don't get as much press."

In reality, vendors of radio frequency identification technologies have spent little or nothing on educating the public about RFID. And privacy advocates get all the press because stories about Big Brother spying on you sell more newspapers than stories about improved supply-chain efficiency.


From recent conversations I've had with end users and vendors, people feel there is a growing need to do more to explain what RFID is, how it is being used, what it can and can't do and so on. EPCglobal, the group commercializing Electronic Product Code technologies, and AIM Global, the association for automatic data capture companies, have been focused on educating legislators in the United States and Europe. They also provide information for the press, but I'm not sure either has the resources or the desire to make educating the public a high priority.

I believe it's time to create a nonprofit group that focuses on education. Any organization funded by the RFID industry will, no doubt, be considered a tool for misinforming the public. But I still think it would be worth creating a group to do the following:

  • Promote and encourage companies using RFID in any consumer application to adhere to best practices that protect consumer privacy.
  • Educate the public, legislators, journalists and privacy advocates about the potential privacy issues RFID raises, and the ways they can be addressed.
  • Coordinate the work of various RFID industry bodies to ensure a unified approach to RFID labeling.

What I would like to see is an organization headed by someone who understands RFID systems and can intelligently address questions about read range, the potential for surreptitious reading of tags and so on.

USER COMMENTS

Frithjof Walk 2006-09-25 12:29:19 AM
It's Time to Address Privacy Dear Mr. Roberti, as a member of the AIM Global Board of Directors, as well as in my role as an actively involevd person in the market development for RFID products for more than 15 years, I would like to express my astonishement reading your article: 1. AIM as well as EPC and others are spending a lot of efforts in educating users and consumers on the details of the technology. 2. I agree, the most people in the market are trying to do some business. RFID Journal is one of this companies, offering conferences and your magazine to attract as many people as possible. You need the industry you are blaming, to do your business. 3. I gained the impression that you did not check communication efforts other than the ones of you company to find out what is really going on in the market! I would really appriciate to bundle all efforts to go ahead and educate the market as AIM Global is doing instead of trying to split of other activities to gain a personal higher public interest! Sincerely Frithjof Walk

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