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Analyst RFID Viewpoint: 1984 All Over Again?
Guest columnist Joe Barkai argues that ignorance regarding the actual capabilities of RFID and the potential risk to consumer privacy will lead to unfounded fears and resistance from consumers and privacy advocates, which, in turn, will slow the adoption and further development of effective and secure technology.
Jul 18, 2006—This article was originally published by RFID Update.
July 18, 2006—With major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target, and Proctor and Gamble deploying RFID technology at the pallet and case level and eventually moving to tag individual items, privacy concerns continue to mount. Consumer privacy advocates worry that retailers will be able to track purchasing habits and the location and movement of products and individuals in a much more pervasive manner than is possible today.
Although there is little real-world experience from the limited deployment of RFID technology, the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) presented to a U.S. Congress subcommittee their arguments for legislation restricting potential privacy-invading uses of RFID.
Similar fears were common 30 years ago when barcode tagging was introduced. Consumer groups and individuals worried about the creation of massive databases that track consumers spending and buying patterns and about the loss of price control because prices would not be posted on shelves. By and large, these concerns have not materialized. However, with the increased popularity of credit card and online shopping, the growing number of identify theft cases, and the alleged ability to identify RFID-tagged products from afar, it is very easy to see how individuals and privacy protection activists conjure up Orwellian scenarios based on the data stored in RFID chips.
Like any new technology application, RFID technology holds both promise and peril for consumers. RFID promises improved efficiency, greater convenience, and higher quality and accuracy for manufacturers, retailers, and consumers. But history also teaches us that ignorance, and, more importantly, fear fueled by ignorance can severely limit the adoption of a promising new technology. Ignorance regarding the actual capabilities of RFID and the potential risk to consumer privacy will lead to unfounded fears and resistance from consumers and privacy advocates, which, in turn, will slow the adoption and further development of effective and secure technology. In a similar vein, ignorance will hinder the development of necessary, adequate technologies and policies to guide the management and protection of omnipresent RFID-generated data.
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