Tuesday, October 25, 2005

New Book about RFID Stirs Reaction

Katherine Albrecht, who is one of the founders CASPIAN (Consumers Against
Supermarket Invasion and Numbering) and Liz McIntyre, who is CASPIAN's communication director, have written a book titled "Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move With RFID"

Reaction ranges from adulatory to scornful. Those who disagree with books assertions argue that companies only plan on using to help serve their customers better. Reviewers suggest that while the authors' stories appear frightening at first, there are practical or technical limitations that make a worst-case scenrio unlikely. In fact, some reviewers write, RFID could consumers and citizens of a repressive government, just as the Internet has. RFID will help empower consumers, because they will have more information.

Others praise the book as a powerful indictment of the extensive potential uses of RFID by business and government. The authors examine RFID patent applications by major companies to demonstrate the ambitious plans they appear to have to track consumers. Some reviewers praise its description of potential uses which would no doubt disturb many people.

I haven't read the book, but it seems as though both the critics and fans of the book may have a point. The authors appear to have discussed a number of potential uses for RFID which would be objectionable for most people, particularly if they were not even informed of its use. On the other hand, most of these are hypothetical, and some are unrealistic.

Before RFID is banned or widely adopted, it would make sense, in my opinion, to have a discussion about which uses are approrpriate, and why. While businesses tracking inventory might at first seem intrusive, it might have great benefits at little cost to privacy, especially with some limited regulations in place. Widespread use by the government is another issue entirely, one worthy of further debate. Like other technologies, RFID can have good and bad applications, depending who is using it, and why; and what limitations, if any, they operate under.