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Consumers Want RFID

As privacy concerns are addressed, consumers are beginning to seek radio frequency identification solutions to track their belongings, connect with friends and improve city services.
By Mark Roberti
Sep 09, 2013

There was a time, not too long ago, when radio frequency identification was considered by many consumers to be an evil technology conjured up by corporate titans and government agencies to track individuals—wherever they went, whatever they did and, of course, whatever they bought. Today, however, consumers are finally learning to appreciate the benefits that the technology can deliver.

The dislike of RFID was driven, in part, by privacy advocates who raised some legitimate—and some very far-fetched—concerns about how RFID might be abused. Mass-media outlets, always looking for a good story regardless of the truth, hyped these concerns and led people to fear RFID.

However, consumers are now waking up to the fact that they live in a world in which Web cameras can be hacked to show their personal lives (see F.T.C. Says Webcam’s Flaw Put Users’ Lives on Display), inexpensive GPS devices can be used to track their movements (see Private Snoops Find GPS Trail Legal to Follow), and the U.S. National Security Agency regularly captures information about their cell phone calls and e-mail (see N.S.A. Said to Search Content of Messages to and From U.S.), and can even read their encrypted documents (see N.S.A. Able to Foil Basic Safeguards of Privacy on Web). RFID is looking pretty benign by comparison.

At the same time, a variety of innovations have been built into passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags and Near Field Communication (NFC) systems to protect consumers against abuses of RFID technology. But it's not just the fact that consumers are less fearful of RFID—they are also beginning to realize that the technology can be beneficial in myriad ways.

NFC is catching on as a way to obtain information and pay for some low-cost items. The technology allows users to pair phones in order to share movies, pictures and playlists. There are now NFC-enabled speaker systems, for example, that can be paired with smartphones to allow you to play your music. In the upcoming November-December 2013 issue of our digital magazine, we will examine how consumers are employing RFID and NFC to connect with friends and family members during activities and at events, via social media.

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