[Dave Birch] Under a deal announced at the beginning of March, RFID (radio frequency identification) tag specialists Checkpoint Systems will provide Europe’s second largest shoe retailer Reno with tags and tagging systems for 700 stores in 15 countries.  By having the tags integrated into its shoes, Reno aims to curb theft for both boxed products and those on display, as well as shoes customers try on in the stores.  Reno has been using RFID technology to track product shipments from its factories to its stores for several years but has not yet used the technology to track individual products inside each store.  Even setting these more paranoid aspects to one side, wouldn’t it be useful for retailers to know which stores I’d been in and where I went in those stores?

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When we talk about identity management, we’re generally talking about people but the fact is that the identity of stuff is just as important in business terms.  But can you separate the two?  If a malign agency wanted to track me, what better way (other than my mobile phone) that my shoes!  And suppose that I check in at the airport wearing shoes that were bought at the same stores, and at the same time, as shoes worn by a known terrorist?

Oh, wait a minute.  According to CASPIAN, American Express has already patented this idea!  American Express has, quite reasonably as far as I can see, agreed to ensure that any what CASPIAN calls "people-tracking plans" be accompanied by language requiring consumer notice and consent.  If Amex were to give me some Membership Rewards for letting Marks & Spencer know which path I took through their stores, I’d probably be happy.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that CASPIAN’s news release talks about a "Minority Report style blueprint for monitoring consumers through RFID-enabled objects, like the American Express Blue Card".  Now, as technologists we might well understand that the long-range read-only vicinity RFID tags in shoes are not the same thing as the short-range read-write proximity contactless microprocessors in American Express Blie Cards, but it’s going to be hard to get that message over if journalists (and lobbyists) keep mixing the two things together.  If anyone has any suggestions has to how to explain the difference to them – clearly – I would really appreciate hearing them.

Incidentally, I think this post has probably already won the prize for the best blog post title of 2007, and it’s only March.

My opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public.
[posted with ecto]

1 comment

  1. As the lucky recipient of a shielded wallet in your recent competition, I now find myself in a quandary – I can shield my cards but not my shoes … maybe someone will bring out shielded overshoes? Or given that various clothing manufacturer take up embedding RFID chips, perhaps chainmail is the answer so long as retailers don’t install electro-magnets at the store entrances!

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