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It's Time to Address Privacy

The industry needs to come together to educate consumers, journalists and privacy advocates—and end users—about RFID technologies.
By Mark Roberti
The person who undertakes this task should not be someone who simply wants to shoot down every piece of legislation and encourage governments not to regulate RFID. Rather, the head of this body should be someone who understands that to achieve the benefits of RFID technology, companies need to respect consumer privacy and behave responsibly. He or she should have credibility among end users, vendors and the press and be able to promote best practices that protect consumers.

As this group educates companies about the benefits of adopting privacy best practices, it should also educate the public about what RFID can and can't do, and how companies are likely or unlikely to use the technology. Informed consumers can make intelligent choices about whether they want to shop in stores that use RFID. Unfortunately, almost every article written about RFID and privacy has had serious inaccuracies that hamper the public's ability to make an informed choice about whether this technology is good or bad for them, which is why educating journalists should be a high priority.

And when I say "educating," I don't mean just selling RFID—talking about all the potential benefits RFID could bring consumers, businesses and societies as a whole. I mean helping people understand the technology, the systems behind RFID and the business practices that will use RFID information. (As an aside, I wrote an article on Oct. 17, 2005—Target, Wal-Mart Share EPC Data—that must rank among the most misquoted articles in history. Although it clearly states that Wal-Mart and Target are sharing data with individual suppliers about the location of the suppliers' products in the supply chain, the story is repeatedly cited as refuting my oft-made claim that retailers won't share data about their customers with their competitors. It does nothing of the sort, as anyone who has actually read it would know.)

Finally, it is clear that the industry needs to create a universal label to be placed on all consumer products, indicating that the product contains an RFID tag. EPCglobal has its label. AIM Global has created its own for non-EPC RFID systems. But manufacturers don't want to have two or more labels on products that have RFID. It is imperative that we have a single, global label, and this group I'm proposing could help achieve that.

I think an organization that is not controlled by a single group—end users, vendors, standards bodies—within the RFID industry, one that focuses on getting companies to adopt best practices for protecting consumer privacy, educating the public at large and promoting standardized labeling, would be invaluable. If you agree, or if you think your organization would support the creation of such a group, please send an e-mail to editor@rfidjournal.com.

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


Frithjof Walk 2006-09-25 12:29:19 AM
It's Time to Address Privacy Dear Mr. Roberti, as a member of the AIM Global Board of Directors, as well as in my role as an actively involevd person in the market development for RFID products for more than 15 years, I would like to express my astonishement reading your article: 1. AIM as well as EPC and others are spending a lot of efforts in educating users and consumers on the details of the technology. 2. I agree, the most people in the market are trying to do some business. RFID Journal is one of this companies, offering conferences and your magazine to attract as many people as possible. You need the industry you are blaming, to do your business. 3. I gained the impression that you did not check communication efforts other than the ones of you company to find out what is really going on in the market! I would really appriciate to bundle all efforts to go ahead and educate the market as AIM Global is doing instead of trying to split of other activities to gain a personal higher public interest! Sincerely Frithjof Walk

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