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Power to the People

One of the great ironies concerning RFID being used by the U.S. government to control people is that, thanks to technology, people have more power today than they've ever had.
Posted By Mark Roberti, 03.20.2007
Thomas L. Friedman, the New York Times columnist and best-selling author, is one of my favorite writers because he talks sense and portrays the world as it really is, rather than how people would like it to be. In his column last week, "Marching With a Mouse," he wrote about how the largest leverage buyout in history—the purchase of Texas-based electric utility TXU Corp. by two private equity firms—was contingent on environmentalists blessing the deal.

Friedman said that John Wilder, TXU's chairman, initially didn't realize the world had changed. Wilder planned to build "11 coal-fired, CO2-belching power plants," and he ignored environmentalists' concerns. But the Internet enabled environmentalists to turn a local issue (TXU's plans to build coal-fired power plants) into a national concern. The private equity firms jumped in, but before they would complete the buyout, they wanted environmentalists to bless their plans, which included building only three new coal-fired plants, plowing $400 million into energy-efficiency programs and doubling the amount of wind power the utility purchased.

"If you do your homework, have your facts right and the merits on your side, and then build a constituency for your ideals through the Internet, you, too, can be at the table of the biggest deal in history," Friedman wrote.

The reason I raise this point is that I find it ironic that so many people are opposed to radio frequency identification because they believe the government will use it to control—or even enslave—the masses. They believe this at a time when each individual has more power than he or she has ever had to fight the government, big companies and other powerful groups.

This is one of the reasons why I believe companies will not abuse RFID, and that the government will not get away with any secret plans to control or track the population through RFID. A lot has been made of patents that were filed for tracking shoppers through stores. There's no doubt retailers would like to do that. One retailer told me: "I'd like to put a chip right into people's brains so I know what they want to buy, and then I want to hold them down until they buy, because selling is hard."

The person who said this, of course, would never seriously consider doing this, but let's face it, companies would love to know more about what we buy, when we buy it, how we buy it and so on. But if any company had serious plans to surreptitiously track their customers, it would have an awfully hard time keeping that a secret in today's world. Anyone who found the idea immoral or unethical could take a photo with a cell phone of secret gadgets and reveal the plan anonymously on the Web. Internet technology has given people the means to get the word out to millions of other people in a way that was never possible before. And most companies realize that.

Selling is hard, and I think most retailers understand that it doesn't take much to lose a customer these days. Headlines around the country that say: "XYZ Retailer Secretly Tracks Customers" is not exactly going to make selling any easier.

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