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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
Of course, it should not be up to consumers to be constantly vigilant about preventing RFID items from being put in the things they buy. Then again, I don’t think they’ll have to be. Recent history makes it clear that if a company were to try to sneak RFID tags into its products without telling customers, they would be exposed and suffer bad press. Other companies would then learn the lesson pretty quickly, not wanting to be the next one exposed. We’ve already seen companies such as Marks & Spencer (M&S) address the privacy issue to the satisfaction of its customers after learning from Benetton’s mistakes. (While Benetton, in fairness, was not planning to use tags in clothes to track people, it also had no plan for addressing concerns about the potential invasion of privacy the tags presented.)

Albrecht says in her rebuttal, “It's hilarious how Mr. Roberti illogically uses the fact of our past successes preventing RFID abuse to somehow criticize us for alerting the public to further planned abuses.” Sure, it might be hilarious if that’s what I actually suggested...but, of course, it’s not. First, I certainly do not agree that CASPIAN prevented any past abuse because there’s no evidence Benetton ever planned to use tags in clothes to invade privacy. My point was that even when companies don’t have any plans to invade privacy, they will bow to a small group of people who put pressure on them.

Furthermore, I don’t criticize the authors for alerting the public to planned future abuses. I criticize them for presenting this technology as such an inevitable threat to society that people should reject all its consumer applications—and for not telling them about the many potential benefits RFID offers consumers. They only give half of the story.

Albrecht says she wants consumers to decide whether RFID’s use in consumer products is acceptable, but freely admits she doesn’t provide information about RFID’s many potential consumer benefits. It seems odd to me that someone would claim to be acting on behalf of consumers but would not give them the information they need to make an educated decision. Albrecht says it’s not her job any more than it’s Schick’s job to tout Gillette razors (of course, we’re talking about an issue of public policy, not products, so there’s quite a big difference between the scenarios).

She claims RFID Journal and the RFID industry have been “issuing voluminous quantities of pro-RFID information.” However, the information RFID Journal and the RFID industry puts out is almost entirely about the business benefits of the technology. Some retailers have put information in their stores about the improved on-shelf availability RFID tags bring, but there has been no concerted effort yet to educate the public about RFID’s many consumer benefits.

USER COMMENTS

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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