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Spychips Revisited

Spychips co-author Katherine Albrecht has written a lengthy rebuttal to RFID Journal’s review of her book, but still has not made a credible case that RFID poses a significant threat to personal privacy.
By Mark Roberti
Nov 21, 2005After RFID Journal published a review of Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move With RFID, I received an e-mail from Katherine Albrecht, founder of Consumers Against Supermarket Invasion and Numbering (CASPIAN) and co-author of the book. She said that in the interest of fair journalistic practices, I should give her a chance to rebut my review on our site. I pointed out that journals that publish book reviews don’t give authors the right of rebuttal, but I said I would be happy to publish one if it was factual and advanced the debate over radio frequency identification.

Albrecht did not take me up on the offer. However, she has published a rebuttal on her own Spychips Web site (see Dismantling the RFID Journal's Critique of Spychips).

I’m not going to waste your time by going through each point in Albrecht’s rebuttal. At more than 7,000 words, it’s twice the length of my admittedly long review. But I would like to address a key point raised in her article, which is that consumers will not have a choice about whether to accept RFID in the products they buy.

First, a little history. The authors uncovered a four-year-old patent filed by IBM for “Identification and Tracking of Persons with RFID-Tagged Items.” The patent spells out a method for tying people to the tagged items they buy in exactly the way consumer advocates fear. You buy a shirt at XYZ store, you pay with a credit card, and the next time you wear that shirt to that store, the retailer interrogates the tag in the shirt, looks up who bought the shirt and identifies you personally.

Using this technology, profiles could be built up over time. It could be used to track your movements throughout the store, and to make personalized advertising pitches to you, based on your buying patterns. Worse, the patent goes on to say the technology could be used to track persons deemed potentially suspicious.

The authors of Spychips say this and several other patents filed by technology companies are the smoking gun proving the RFID industry has a “master plan” (one of the chapter titles) to track people and invade their privacy. The book presents no evidence that these applications have been built and are, or will soon be, used to invade consumers’ privacy. (To put the IBM patent in perspective, it was filed a full two years before the privacy issue erupted when Benetton announced plans to tag clothes in its Sisley line.)


Jacques Van Quickelberghe 2005-12-01 09:01:34 PM
Spy Chips I would be asking Katherine Albrecht one question - Does she own a cell phone? The same issues that she is against can be said about all users that carry cell phones.. I have not read her book, and am not planning to, however to make accusations such as these are fair, however they are also very easily identified should you need to.. Like you have said, this puts companies into more trouble than what the initial intent was.. I really think companies would never (secretly) install RFID devices - with the intention of Spying... but I can understand their power and their reasons for wanting to do it..

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