The Globe and Mail—Misinforming Readers Once Again

A new article continues the newspaper's standing practice of misinforming the public regarding RFID.
Published: June 30, 2009

Mark Roberti

I received an e-mail a few weeks ago from a freelance journalist working on an article for the Globe and Mail. She wanted to interview me for an article she was writing, so I asked if it was going to be a one-sided piece of crap like the last Globe and Mail article on radio frequency identification. She assured me it would not, and I agreed to do the article.

She lied.

The article, entitled “Who’s Watching the Watchers?,” appeared on Saturday in what is apparently trying to be the worst newspaper in North America.

I could go on and on about the factual errors in this story (Benetton did not, as the story claims, “recall millions of garments it had embedded with microchips,” for instance—and that’s just one of the many glaring mistakes). I could explain how the reporter ignored the facts I provided that undermined her biased point of view, such as that no one has ever had their privacy infringed using RFID. I could explain how she twisted my words to set me up to look like I am defending the indefensible, while setting up Katherine Albrecht, who routinely misleads journalists and the public, as if she were somehow the “Erin Brockovich of RFID.”

But I won’t bother. The article is so trite and full of nonsense I’d already discredited years ago, that I’d instead like to focus on just one aspect of it—namely, the writer’s inability to examine these issues with any kind of depth. During the course of our interview, I said: “One day, it might be very valuable to know that 100 customers picked up product A, put it back and bought product B.”

I made it clear that this would be aggregated data, collected on shoppers without knowing who those 100 people were. But the article makes it appear as though the stores would be able to identify the individuals—which is not the case. The key line follows my quote, when the biased writer asks, “Valuable to whom?”

The implication here, in her obviously limited understanding of the world, is that this information could only be valuable to companies, and could only be used against the buying public. Well, sure, it would be valuable to companies—but it would also greatly benefit consumers, without hurting them.

There are many ways to learn what consumers want, including customer surveys. Companies constantly strive to improve their products and service by obtaining information regarding what consumers want. If a company used aggregated information to determine its products were over-priced, for example, it would lower the price.

Who benefits?

Let’s say a company learns that two out of every three consumers pick up a product, then put it back down and purchase a competing product instead. Interviews with customers could lead that firm to learn, for instance, that it used too many artificial flavors. It could then change the product to use more natural products. Does that not benefit consumers?

It seems to me that as long as companies track behaviors rather than tying actions to individuals, there is no privacy infringement whatsoever—and this goes on today, with people who are paid to watch shoppers’ behaviors. The information gathered is used for competitive purposes, and consumers benefit from the competition.

I don’t want companies knowing what I do in a store, so I understand concerns regarding privacy invasion. But at the same time, if Home Depot knows that shopper X (who just happens to be Mark Roberti) never buys Behr paint, no matter how cheap it is, that’s good—because maybe it will then stop selling Behr and switch to Benjamin Moore, the paint I usually buy. And that’s just as beneficial to me as it is for the store.

I find it interesting that journalists sometimes buy into the “technology is evil, or will be used for evil, by Big Business” concept. But it’s not hard to understand in this case—the biased journalist and the slanted publication she writes for are setting themselves up as the good guys, fighting for the rights of their readers, when in fact they’re knowingly and deliberately misinforming their public.

The bottom line: They are not the good guys, no matter what anyone might think. Good guys do not deliberately misinform—they inform, and they let people make their own choices. Albrecht and the Globe and Mail can’t write about all of the benefits RFID will bring to people, because they know that if they do, consumers will certainly embrace the technology since the benefits far outweigh the potential abuses.

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 click here.