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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
Nevertheless, I continue to believe that as RFID proliferates, consumers will eventually get good information, and consumers are smart enough to make intelligent decisions. I think most people will understand that they have nothing to fear from RFID because they have the power, not the companies. They can always choose not to shop at stores infringing on their privacy.

And while I don’t believe companies will ever be able to sneak tags into products and track people without their consent, RFID Journal supports CASPIAN’s call for mandatory labeling (see Full Disclosure). We will continue to do so, in fact, because consumers shouldn’t have to buy a reader to know if a tag is in their product. We continue to urge companies to adhere to fair information practices, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s also good for business. And unlike CASPIAN, we won’t resort to personal attacks on those who disagree with us.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below.

PS: Katherine Albrecht took offense at the comment in my review that Spychips uses copious footnotes to give the book the “illusion” of being well researched. She challenged me “to cite a specific page number and footnote that undermines the credibility of our research.” OK.

Footnote 6 on page 44 cites a Chicago Sun-Times article to support a claim that Procter & Gamble (P&G) used RFID to spy on customers. However, while the article does insinuate P&G spied on people, it doesn’t present a shred of evidence RFID technology was ever used to collect personal data on customers, or to infringe on their privacy (a webcam was used, but as the story says, it was pointed at the shelves, not the customers).

Here’s another example. On page 66, the authors say Texas Instruments “is encouraging retailers to install doorway RFID readers for `keeping track of customers walking in the door.’” Note the present tense. But footnote 24 on the following page points out that TI has removed the page from its site (it actually did this three years ago). So it is factually incorrect to say TI is encouraging retailers to track people, based on the evidence presented in the book. And if the authors are intent on telling readers what companies are thinking, then the fact that TI removed this after privacy concerns were raised over Benetton’s tagging plans, is certainly relevant.

In any case, my point was not that the footnotes undermine the research; it was that having a lot of footnotes doesn’t make a book well researched—it just gives that appearance. Spychips often presents facts in such a way as to lead the reader to believe an RFID vendor or end user had the intent to spy on people, without presenting any evidence whatsoever to support that insinuation.

For instance, on page 42, the authors say, “...Benetton was planning to put spychips in its Sisley line of clothing...” The implication is that Benetton planned to spy on its customers—why else would you put “spychips” in clothes?—but the book never presents any evidence that Benetton planned to track customers. It never says anything, in fact, about how Benetton planned to use the tags. RFID Journal, on the other hand, interviewed Mauro Benetton, director of marketing for the Benetton Group, and was told the company planned to use the tags to track the clothes in the supply chain, and that it would happily remove the tags at checkout if that’s what customers wanted (see Benetton Explains RFID Privacy Flap). Albrecht’s readers, of course, are never given these facts.


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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