Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Radioactive

I’ve not been avoiding the issue of privacy and RFID, but it’s one that needs to be addressed. There is so much fear surrounding this technology and the many uses – real and fictional – that issues related to privacy, and how to communicate effectively when you are a supplier or user of RFID, need to be addressed.

But where to begin?

I guess the best way to begin is by asking, what is RFID? The short answer is Radio Frequency IDentification. With that answer come even more questions, and this is where things get sticky.

RFID is most closely associated with microchips that send low-power signals that can be read passively by receivers to track things, most often items that move along a supply chain. Think in terms of the barcode that UPS uses and that allows you to track your packages to and from their destination. There’s no doubt that RFID’s potential in this context is huge. The cost and efficiency improvements made possible by RFID are only just now being explored, and once the actual cost of RFID chips is lowered to the point of economic viability, you’ll see this industry take off.

But RFID is also associated with spying. There’s a pervasive fear that RFID chips will find their way into products that will allow others (whether criminal, governmental, or commercial) to track people and learn more about us than we’d like. The recent practice of RFID chip implantation in human subjects is doing little to quell such fears.

The idea of implantation and other methods of tracking individuals has been described as the “creepy factor.” I keep looking for examples of companies whose fortunes are tied to the success of RFID using public communications to address the creepiness of RFID, but I’m missing it if it’s out there.

I’ll track RFID more closely in the coming weeks, but wanted to get the discussion started. Your thoughts and suggestions on this subject are appreciated.

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