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Getting Privacy Right

EPCglobal US has a role to play in educating people about EPC technology.
By Ari Juels
Jul 29, 2005—By Mike Meranda

To date, EPCglobal US has focused on addressing supply chain efficiencies that are not yet a part of the mainstream consumer experience. But as EPC technology matures, our organization—and our community—must evolve. Business success is inextricably linked to serving the customer, so when customers become concerned about such things as whether their privacy is being invaded, it behooves us all to take notice and assess our responsibilities.

We hear loud and clear the voiced concerns of consumers and advocates who decry all RFID. Most of the negative chatter seems to involve RFID applications (such as U.S. passports, embedded chips and tracking children) that are far from the supply chain, which is the sole focus of EPC technologies.

But just because many complaints don’t touch us directly doesn’t mean EPCglobal has no role to play in helping to educate everyone about the benefits and limits of EPC technology—and perhaps even the broader RFID technology. Bad press generated by any RFID application stands to cast us all in a negative light. That’s why we are taking a leadership role and addressing these issues squarely.

EPCglobal Inc., the international parent of the U.S.-based organization that I lead, created the Public Policy Steering Committee (PPSC) last year. Its members come from major companies and seven trade groups, representing both manufacturers and retailers.

The industry must demonstrate its ability to self-regulate. For that reason, the PPSC developed privacy guidelines that offer thoughtful direction on what companies should do when deploying EPC technology in a consumer environment. The guidelines are based on four principles: notice, choice, education and control. Copies of the guidelines are distributed to subscribers when they join EPCglobal and are posted on the Web sites of www.epcglobalinc.org EPCglobal (www.epcglobalinc.org) and EPCglobal US (www.epcglobalus.org).

But the industry must also show all stakeholders that we are capable of abiding by these principles. Accordingly, under the leadership of Elizabeth Board, the PPSC is considering an accountability program to demonstrate to our subscribers in a tangible way that the guidelines are important. It would also assure customers that the industry hears their concerns.

It’s also important to educate everyone—from the mainstream media to consumer advocacy groups and government legislators—about EPC technology’s benefits and limitations. PPSC members have testified before state and federal legislative and regulatory groups. Our main message has been that although the technology is moving quickly, there is currently very little item-level tagging, and we have time to figure out the best way to inform consumers and address concerns before it is commonplace.

Yet at the same time, if the industry is not careful with how it deploys EPC technology, regulations may be imposed that, once in place, may be very difficult to change. If we don’t get privacy right now, we could end up with unnecessary regulations that stymie growth and scuttle what we are all working for: the fastest, safest and most efficient way to move goods around the world and into consumers’ hands.

Mike Meranda is president of EPCglobal US.
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