Friday, May 19, 2006

Somebody Stop This Guy

Don't mean to harp on the RFID issue, especially as it relates to the ongoing conflict between CASPIAN and anyone developing or using the technology, but this latest development offers a great illustration of what I mean when I say the industry needs to be more aggressive -- and smarter -- about the way it communicates.

RFID is a technology. It is neither good nor evil, but the latter characteristic has been applied to RFID by CASPIAN, and they are relentless in their efforts to demonize RFID. Capitalizing on the natural inclination of people to fear or mistrust things they don't understand.

I'll grant you that some uses of RFID do evoke the dreaded "creepy factor," and CASPIAN exploits this dynamic very well.

And it's easy to do when someone like Scott Silverman is on the loose.

Silverman is chairman and CEO of Applied Digital, parent company of VeriChip Corporation, makers of the infamous VeriChip implantable RFID capsule.

Recently, Silverman was interviewed on FOX News discussing VeriChip's potential use in the fight against illegal immigration.

CASPIAN gleefully makes a transcript of that interview available for you to read.

I have to believe that Mr. Silverman is acutely aware of the controversy that surrounds his company's product; I have to believe that Mr. Silverman is acutely aware of the volatile combination of implantable RFID and the government; I have to believe that Mr. Silverman is acutely aware that there is no shortage of people who utterly fear the potential for abuse of his company's product.

Why, then, does he go on national television and make statements like:

"...obviously, [VeriChip] can be applicable for the immigration issues we face today as well."

A clear reference to use of an RFID chip to track people.

"[Implantation is] an election on the part of the immigrant or an election on the part of the government."

Perhaps a misstatement, but implying that either an individual or the government can decide who to implant and track.

Making matters worse, Silverman absolutely bungles his description of how VeriChip works by speaking technoese. The words and phrases he uses (application, serial port, scanner/proprietary scanner, database, passive device) do nothing to placate a paranoid public and demonstrate any real value behind the technology. Silverman is talking with, among others on the show, New York Giant running back Tiki Barber and potentially millions of average Americans; he's not addressing a conference of the IEEE.

Observation: Silverman appears to have a poor grasp of how to effectively use communications to build trust and confidence in a situation that clearly calls for such an approach. That, or his apparent indifference is an indication of institutional arrogance. Either way, you can almost hear the collective cringe of the RFID industry upon the realization that, with every such interview, the challenge of overcoming RFID's negative perceptions grows more difficult.

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