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Add a User Interface to UHF RFID Tags

Making a simple amendment to the EPC Gen 2 standard will allay privacy concerns, give consumers the ability to control tag behavior and enable new applications.
By József Bánlaki, Miklós Hoffmann and Tibor Juhász
Mar 23, 2014

Having examined the obstacles to the spread of radio frequency identification technology, we have found that the most significant was the low level of social acceptance, due to consumers' fear of privacy invasion. People worry—in some cases, with good reason—that this technology might detect their whereabouts and movements, as well as observe their habits.

Therefore, we propose that EPCglobal's Class 1 Gen 2 standard be amended to require a user interface that allows consumers to detect tags attached to the merchandise they purchase, and to control those tags' behavior. Our proposal opens a new dimension for the use of ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) and Near Field Communication (NFC) tags, which will introduce the concept of "broadcast" that is, so far, unknown with passive UHF RFID technology.

Left to right: József Bánlaki, Miklós Hoffmann and Tibor Juhász
In the corporate world, the advantages of deploying UHF RFID technology are now undisputed. By increasing the effectiveness and reliability of business processes, RFID offers enterprises a quick return on investment (ROI), even though it may require that a company deploy relatively expensive infrastructure in order to use the tags. Consumers, on the other hand, are unlikely to achieve such an ROI. As such, the technology's spread is typically confined to the business sphere.

As long as RFID applications remain within that sphere, there is little risk that the technology will generate the abovementioned privacy fears, of course, since in such cases, consumers do not encounter the tags. In a number of RFID applications, however, the tags' lifecycle extends beyond supply chain businesses applications, and the tags are linked to the products consumers purchase—often intentionally, in order to obtain additional information.

A number of surveys and studies prove the appropriateness of consumers' fears, particularly in countries where the use of RFID technology is widespread. Consumers are not confident that any data collected will be strictly impersonal. The business sector's hunger for information is, in many cases, specifically aimed at detecting complex relationships—that is, assigning the data generated by various technologies (for example, credit cards, mobile phones, the Internet and RFID) to shoppers' habits. Such knowledge can lead to a significant advantage in a competitive market, so it is not at all surprising that this hunger for information is determined by profit interest. This is an important point, because profit motive should be considered as a natural drive within the conditions of the market economy. But this does not mean that profit motive should not be limited by society's interests.

One response to such consumer fears would be to oblige retailers to remove the RFID tags the moment that shoppers purchase tagged items. However, this would not only impose extra work on retailers, but also irrevocably deprive a purchaser of the opportunity to benefit from the tag's ability to provide information regarding a product's origin or usability. For instance, a washing machine equipped with a UHF RFID reader could use the instructions stored in clothes' transponders to select the proper washing program.

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