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Octopus's Arms Reach Far and Wide

The people of Hong Kong love their RFID payment cards and are using them for far more than just subway rides.
Posted By Mark Roberti, 03.06.2007
Tags: Privacy
We often fear what is new or unknown. That probably accounts for a lot of the wacky stuff you read about radio frequency identification, such as concerns about being tracked using ingestible, microscopic tags. In Hong Kong, RFID is not something considered strange or foreign—rather, it's become part of every day life, and people love it.

The RFID-enabled Octopus Card was launched in Hong Kong in September 1997 as a fast and easy fare payment system for the enclave's mass transit system. People embraced it, and it was adopted by virtually all public transportation systems in Hong Kong.

My wife and kids just returned from two weeks in Hong Kong. My wife said the card is now accepted at Manning's and Watson's, two health and beauty care chains, most bakeries and supermarkets, and all conveniences stores. You can also use it to pay for parking at a meter or parking lot, buy gasoline and get refreshments from vending machines.

According to Octopus Cards Limited, the company that runs the Octopus system, there are currently some 14 million cards in circulation—in a city of about 7 million people. The system handles 10 million daily transactions.

Here's the funny thing Hong Kong is a free enclave that is part of a communist country with a totalitarian government—a place where people have been fighting to maintain the freedoms they enjoyed under British rule—and there's not been a single case of anyone complaining their privacy has been infringed, or that they've been tracked using the RFID transponder in their Octopus card. Do you think the fear that the democratic government in the United States could use RFID in credit cards and product packaging to track its citizens might be overblown?

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