Tuesday, March 28, 2006

CASPIAN's Disproportionate Influence

Two of the most active organizations in RFID are Wal-Mart and CASPIAN.

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, is a major force behind the early success and adoption in RFID. The company’s mandate that suppliers adopt RFID tagging to help drive cost out of the supply chain has been well-chronicled. If you are a developer of RFID or related technologies, you probably started high-fiving colleagues and hugging complete strangers when Wal-Mart used its bully pulpit to give RFID a real shot in the arm (no pun intended. Okay, pun a little bit intended).

Then there’s CASPIAN. That acronym stands for Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering. CASPIAN hates the idea of item-level tagging, and they make no secret of that fact. Whenever there’s an RFID initiative, you can be certain that CASPIAN will be there to give its side of the story, warning of spying and Big Brother and describing end-times scenarios.

When VeriChip’s implantable medical RFID chip won FDA approval you didn’t have to be named Nostradamus to see a response from CASPIAN in the future.

When nightclubs in Europe started programs extending VIP treatment to patrons who agreed to be tagged with ID/debit chips powered by RFID, the technology’s detractors were quick to point out that their worst-case scenario was coming to pass.

The problem is, organizations like Wal-Mart have been relatively silent in response to CASPIAN's aggressive campaign against RFID. Wal-Mart and other pro-RFID organizations have invested heavily in the technology and in RFID-enabled programs, but have not spent much to promote their investments. Instead, the industry and its proponents seem resigned to allowing RFID to be buffetted by the detractors in the belief that, eventually, RFID will simply become an unstoppable juggernaut.

That scenario will likely play out over the next few years. Meantime, there are a lot of smaller organizations without the means to be patient who could benefit from a healthy nudge along and the support of a coordinated campaign to boost RFID's image.

Observation: CASPIAN is a headache to the RFID industry, but the industry has no one to blame but itself. CASPIAN has set the terms of debate and has succeeded in painting RFID with a broad and sinister brush. Rather than engage CASPIAN in the open, establish standard terminology for the industry, and aggressively counter CASPIAN’s efforts, the RFID industry as a whole has instead turned introspective, seemingly afraid to meet the challenge.

Organizations that have staked their success on RFID need to clearly communicate the value that technology brings to their products in clear and real terms. Sci-fi visions of device-to-device communications are not what this discussion is about. Instead, the dialog needs to confront misinformation, allay fears, and describe how RFID is improving product and performance today. RFID and its purveyors need to earn the trust of the public, and trust is earned through open, honest communication.

By the way, CASPIAN may be right to raise many of the issues they do, and CASPIAN’s voice is an important one in this debate. But it should not be the dominant voice, nor should the RFID industry allow CASPIAN to go unchecked.


Blogger dand said...


Are you seriously arguing that a small, relatively unknown consumer group is overpowering Walmart and their friends?

Are we to trust the big boys more than the small interest group to look out for our interests? There are plenty of paranoid groups around but paranoia can be a heathly reaction.

3/4/06 18:18  

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