Electronic taggi ng, RFID, etc
David Aitcheson - KB3EFS
kb3efs at yahoo.com
Sat Jan 26 16:54:18 CST 2008
_IF_ this is the future then now is the time to stop living whilst one
still has a semblance of anonymity about them.
--- andre kesteloot <andre.kesteloot at verizon.net> wrote:
1/26/2008 12:16:57 EST Related Quotes
MicrochipsEverywhere: a Future Vision
By TODD LEWAN
AP National Writer
Here'sa vision of the not-so-distant future: _Microchips with antennas
willbe embedded in virtually everything you buy, wear, drive and
read,allowing retailers and law enforcement to track consumer items -
and,by extension, consumers - wherever they go, from a distance.
_A seamless, global network of electronic "sniffers" will scan
radiotags in myriad public settings, identifying people and their
tastesinstantly so that customized ads, "live spam," may be beamed at
_In "Smart Homes," sensors built into walls, floors and appliances
willinventory possessions, record eating habits, monitor medicine
cabinets- all the while, silently reporting data to marketers eager for
a peekinto the occupants' private lives.
In truth, much of the radio frequency identification technology
thatenables objects and people to be tagged and tracked wirelessly
alreadyexists - and new and potentially intrusive uses of it are
beingpatented, perfected and deployed.
Some of the world's largest corporations are vested in the success
ofRFID technology, which couples highly miniaturized computers with
radioantennas to broadcast information about sales and buyers to
Already, microchips are turning up in some computer printers, car
keysand tires, on shampoo bottles and department store clothing
tags.They're also in library books and "contactless" payment cards
(such asAmerican Express' "Blue" and ExxonMobil's "Speedpass.")
Companies say the RFID tags improve supply-chain efficiency, cut
theft,and guarantee that brand-name products are authentic, not
counterfeit.At a store, RFID doorways could scan your purchases
automatically asyou leave, eliminating tedious checkouts.
At home, convenience is a selling point: RFID-enabled
refrigeratorscould warn about expired milk, generate weekly shopping
lists, evensend signals to your interactive TV, so that you see
"personalized"commercials for foods you have a history of buying.
Sniffers in yourmicrowave might read a chip-equipped TV dinner and cook
"We've seen so many different uses of the technology," says Dan
Mullen,president of AIM Global, a national association of data
collectionbusinesses, including RFID, "and we're probably still just
scratchingthe surface in terms of places RFID can be used."
The problem, critics say, is that microchipped products might very
welldo a whole lot more.
With tags in so many objects, relaying information to databases thatcan
be linked to credit and bank cards, almost no aspect of life maysoon be
safe from the prying eyes of corporations and governments, saysMark
Rasch, former head of the computer-crime unit of the U.S.
By placing sniffers in strategic areas, companies can invisibly
"riflethrough people's pockets, purses, suitcases, briefcases, luggage
- andpossibly their kitchens and bedrooms - anytime of the day or
night,"says Rasch, now managing director of technology at FTI
Consulting Inc.,a Baltimore-based company.
In an RFID world, "You've got the possibility of unauthorized
peoplelearning stuff about who you are, what you've bought, how and
whereyou've bought it ... It's like saying, 'Well, who wants to look
throughmy medicine cabinet?'"
He imagines a time when anyone from police to identity thieves
tostalkers might scan locked car trunks, garages or home offices from
adistance. "Think of it as a high-tech form of Dumpster diving,"
saysRasch, who's also concerned about data gathered by "spy" appliances
"It's going to be used in unintended ways by third parties - not
justthe government, but private investigators, marketers, lawyers
buildinga case against you ..."
Presently, the radio tag most commercialized in America is theso-called
"passive" emitter, meaning it has no internal power supply.Only when a
reader powers these tags with a squirt of electrons do theybroadcast
their signal, indiscriminately, within a range of a fewinches to 20
Not as common, but increasing in use, are "active" tags, which
haveinternal batteries and can transmit signals, continuously, as far
aslow-orbiting satellites. Active tags pay tolls as motorists to
zipthrough tollgates; they also track wildlife, such as sea lions.
Retailers and manufacturers want to use passive tags to replace the
barcode, for tracking inventory. These radio tags transmit
ElectronicProduct Codes, number strings that allow trillons of objects
to beuniquely identified. Some transmit specifics about the item, such
asprice, though not the name of the buyer.
However, "once a tagged item is associated with a particularindividual,
personally identifiable information can be obtained andthen aggregated
to develop a profile," the U.S. GovernmentAccountability Office
concluded in a 2005 report on RFID.
Federal agencies and law enforcement already buy information
aboutindividuals from commercial data brokers, companies that
compilecomputer dossiers on millions of individuals from public
records,credit applications and many other sources, then offer
summaries forsale. These brokers, unlike credit bureaus, aren't subject
toprovisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1970, which
givesconsumers the right to correct errors and block access to
That, and the ever-increasing volume of data collected on consumers,
isworrisome, says Mike Hrabik, chief technology officer at Solutionary,
acomputer-security firm in Bethesda, Md. "Are companies using
thatinformation incorrectly, and are they giving it out
inappropriately?I'm sure that's happening. Should we be concerned?
Even some industry proponents recognize risks. Elliott Maxwell,
aresearch fellow at Pennsylvania State University who serves as a
policyadviser to EPCglobal, the industry's standard-setting group, says
databroadcast by microchips can easily be intercepted, and misused,
As RFID goes mainstream and the range of readers increases, it will
be"difficult to know who is gathering what data, who has access to
it,what is being done with it, and who should be held responsible for
it,"Maxwell wrote in RFID Journal, an industry publication.
The recent growth of the RFID industry has been staggering: From 1955to
2005, cumulative sales of radio tags totaled 2.4 billion; last
yearalone, 2.24 billion tags were sold worldwide, and analysts project
thatby 2017 cumulative sales will top 1 trillion - generating more than
$25billion in annual revenues for the industry.
Heady forecasts like these energize chip proponents, who insist
thatRFID will result in enormous savings for businesses. Each
year,retailers lose $57 billion from administrative failures, supplier
fraudand employee theft, according to a recent survey of 820 retailers
byCheckpoint Systems, an RFID manufacturer that specializes in
Privacy concerns, some RFID supporters say, are overblown. One,
MarkRoberti, editor of RFID Journal, says the notion that businesses
wouldconspire to create high-resolution portraits of people is
Corporations know Americans are sensitive about their privacy, he
says,and are careful not to alienate consumers by violating it.
Besides,"All companies keep their customer data close to the vest ...
There'sabsolutely no value in sharing it. Zero."
Industry officials, too, insist that addressing privacy concerns
isparamount. As American Express spokeswoman Judy Tenzer says,
"Securityand privacy are a top priority for American Express in
But industry documents suggest a different line of thinking,
A 2005 patent application by American Express itself describes
howRFID-embedded objects carried by shoppers could emit
"identificationsignals" when queried by electronic "consumer trackers."
The systemcould identify people, record their movements, and send them
video adsthat might offer "incentives" or "even the emission of a
RFID readers could be placed in public venues, including "a common
areaof a school, shopping center, bus station or other place of
publicaccommodation," according to the application, which is still
pending -and which is not alone.
In 2006, IBM received patent approval for an invention it
called,"Identification and tracking of persons using RFID-tagged
items." Onestated purpose: To collect information about people that
could be "usedto monitor the movement of the person through the store
Once somebody enters a store, a sniffer "scans all identifiable
RFIDtags carried on the person," and correlates the tag information
withsales records to determine the individual's "exact identity." A
deviceknown as a "person tracking unit" then assigns a tracking number
to theshopper "to monitor the movement of the person through the store
But as the patent makes clear, IBM's invention could work in
otherpublic places, "such as shopping malls, airports, train stations,
busstations, elevators, trains, airplanes, restrooms, sports
arenas,libraries, theaters, museums, etc." (RFID could even help
"follow aparticular crime suspect through public areas.")
Another patent, obtained in 2003 by NCR Corp., details how
camouflagedsensors and cameras would record customers' wanderings
through a store,film their facial expressions at displays, and time -
to the second -how long shoppers hold and study items.
Why? Such monitoring "allows one to draw valuable inferences about
thebehavior of large numbers of shoppers," the patent states.
Then there's a 2001 patent application by Procter &Gamble, "Systemsand
methods for tracking consumers in a store environment." This onelays
out an idea to use heat sensors to track and record "where aconsumer is
looking, i.e., which way she is facing, whether she isbending over or
crouching down to look at a lower shelf."
The system could space sensors 8 feet apart, in ceilings,
floors,shelving and displays, so they could capture signals transmitted
every1.5 seconds by microchipped shopping carts.
The documents "raise the hair on the back of your neck," says
LizMcIntyre, co-author of "Spychips," a book that is critical of
theindustry. "The industry has long promised it would never use
thistechnology to track people. But these patent records clearly
Corporations take issue with that, saying that patent filings
shouldn'tbe used to predict a company's actions.
"We file thousands of patents every year, which are designed to
protectconcepts or ideas," Paul Fox, a spokesman for Procter
&Gamble,says. "The reality is that many of those ideas and concepts
never seethe light of day."
And what of his company's 2001 patent application? "I'm not aware ofany
plans to use that," Fox says.
Sandy Hughes, P&G's global privacy executive, adds that Procter&Gamble
has no intention of using any technologies - RFID orotherwise - to
track individuals. The idea of the 2001 filing, shesays, is to monitor
how groups of people react to store displays, "notindividual
NCR and American Express echoed those statements. IBM declined
tocomment for this story.
"Not every element in a patent filing is necessarily something we
wouldpursue....," says Tenzer, the American Express spokeswoman. "Under
nocircumstances would we use this technology without a
McIntyre has her doubts.
In the marketing world of today, she says, "data on individualconsumers
is gold, and the only thing preventing these companies fromabusing
technologies like RFID to get at that gold is public scrutiny."
RFID dates to World War II, when Britain put transponders in
Alliedaircraft to help radar crews distinguish them from German
fighters. Inthe 1970s, the U.S. government tagged trucks entering and
leavingsecure facilities such as the Los Alamos National Laboratory,
and adecade later, they were used to track livestock and railroad cars.
In 2003, the U.S. Department of Defense and Wal-Mart gave RFID amammoth
push, mandating that suppliers radio tag all crates andcartons. To that
point, the cost of tags had simply been too high tomake tagging pallets
- let alone individual items - viable. In 1999,passive tags cost nearly
Since then, rising demand and production of microchips - along
withtechnological advances - have driven tag prices down to a range of
7 to15 cents. At that price, the technology is "well-suited at a case
andpallet level," says Mullen, of the industry group AIM Global.
John Simley, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, says tracking products
inreal-time helps ensure product freshness and lowers the chances
thatitems will be out of stock. By reducing loss and waste in the
supplychain, RFID "allows us to keep our prices that much lower."
Katherine Albrecht, founder of CASPIAN, an anti-RFID group,
says,"Nobody cares about radio tags on crates and pallets. But if we
don'tkeep RFID off of individual consumer items, our stores will one
dayturn into retail 'zoos' where the customer is always on exhibit."
So, how long will it be before you find an RFID tag in your
underwear?The industry isn't saying, but some analysts speculate that
within adecade tag costs may dip below a penny, the threshold at which
nearlyeverything could be chipped.
To businesses slammed by counterfeiters - pharmaceuticals, for one
-that's not a bad thing. Sales of fake drugs cost drug makers
anestimated $46 billion a year. In 2004, the U.S. Food and
DrugAdministration recommended that RFID be incorporated throughout
thesupply chain as a way of making sure consumers get authentic drugs.
In the United States, Pfizer has already begun chipping all 30-
and100-count bottles of Viagra, one of the most counterfeited drugs.
Chips could be embedded in other controlled or potentially
dangerousitems such as firearms and explosives, to make them easier to
track.This was mentioned in IBM's patent documents.
Still, the idea that tiny radio chips might be in their socks and
shoesdoesn't sit well with Americans. At least, that's
whatFleishman-Hillard Inc., a public-relations firm in St. Louis, found
in2001 when it surveyed 317 consumers for the industry.
Seventy-eight percent of those queried reacted negatively to RFID
whenprivacy was raised. "More than half claimed to be extremely or
veryconcerned," the report said, noting that the term "Big Brother"
was"used in 15 separate cases to describe the technology."
It also found that people bridled at the idea of having "Smart Tags"
intheir homes. One surveyed person remarked: "Where money is to be
madethe privacy of the individual will be compromised."
In 2002, Fleishman-Hillard produced another report for the industrythat
counseled RFID makers to "convey (the) inevitability oftechnology," and
to develop a plan to "neutralize the opposition," byadopting friendlier
names for radio tags such as "Bar Code II" and"Green Tag."
And in a 2003 report, Helen Duce, the industry's trade group directorin
Europe, wrote that "the lack of clear benefits to consumers
couldpresent a problem in the 'real world,'" particularly if privacy
issueswere stirred by "negative press coverage."
(Though the reports were marked "Confidential," they were later
foundarchived on an industry trade group's Web site.)
The Duce report's recommendations: Tell consumers that RFID
isregulated, that RFID is just a new and improved bar code, and
thatretailers will announce when an item is radio tagged, and
deactivatethe tags at check-out upon a customer's request.
Actually, in the United States, RFID is not federally regulated.
Andwhile bar codes identify product categories, radio tags carry
uniqueserial numbers that - when purchased with a credit card,
frequentshopper card or contactless card - can be linked to specific
And, unlike bar codes, RFID tags can be read through almost
anythingexcept metal and water, without the holder's knowledge.
EPCglobal, the industry's standard-setting body, has issued
publicpolicy guidelines that call for retailers to put a
thumbnail-sized logo- "EPC," for Electronic Product Code - on all radio
tagged packaging.The group also suggests that merchants notify shoppers
that RFID tagscan be removed, discarded or disabled.
Critics say the guidelines are voluntary, vague and don't
penalizeviolators. They want federal and state oversight - something
theindustry has vigorously opposed - particularly after two
RFIDmanufacturers, Checkpoint Systems and Sensormatic, announced last
yearthat they are marketing tags designed to be embedded in such items
Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic PrivacyInformation
Center, says, "I don't think there's any basis ... forconsumers to have
to think that their clothing is tracking them." >
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