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Where the RFID Industry Has Failed
There is still a great deal of misunderstanding regarding what the technology is and does—and how it might be abused—that the industry needs to address.
In all other cases, you need to use some other method to identify a person and then associate a tag ID in something he or she carries, in order to track that individual. Yet, the misunderstanding that reading a tag is equivalent to infringing privacy—often combined with "all RFID is the same"—persists, and is a favorite target of hackers, bloggers and some academics. (It's also one of the reasons I've felt so frustrated lately.) For a taste of how this myth is spread, see A Privacy Expert's Misguided View of RFID, Academic Navel Gazing Continues and PBS NewsHour Misinforms Viewers on RFID.
Many products have embedded RFID tags. I've read numerous articles that assume a lot of goods have embedded tags, or that quote so-called experts making this claim. In the PBS NewsHour piece on cybersecurity that I took issue with, for example, hacker Chris Paget said on camera, "You can find out all kinds of information about them from these RFID tags that are being issued to you by the government, by stores, and products you buy all over the place."
The problem with that notion is that almost no products currently have RFID tags embedded in them. And the few items that consumers might purchase with tags have them in hangtags or labels designed to be cut off, or in packaging that is thrown away. What's more, goods sold at Walmart that have RFID tags in their hangtags, labels or exterior packaging will carry the EPCglobal seal, indicating the presence of an RFID tag.
RFID opponents worry that criminals, overzealous government officials or nefarious businesspeople could sit in a parking lot and read tags on labels and packaging as consumers leave a store, or that they could scan an individual's garbage cans. This strikes me as very unlikely. All the perpetrators would obtain is a serial number—and even if criminals knew enough to figure out which product those numbers represented, it would be of little value to them. Criminals target people and homes that are vulnerable, not those with the nicest merchandise.
As I wrote in last week's Editor's Note (see Irresponsible Reporting on RFID), there are legitimate reasons to raise privacy concerns. But to solve any and all privacy issues so that governments, businesspeople and consumers can benefit from RFID technology, we need to have an ongoing intelligent discussion.
My advice to providers of RFID hardware, software and services—and to companies using the technology now—is to raise these issues every chance you get. Raise them every time you are interviewed by the press, and whenever you speak at an event. These myths are not easily dispelled. We need to keep repeating the facts until people understand them.
Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog or the Editor's Note archive.
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