[Dave Birch] Down at the European Technology Standards Institute (ETSI), I saw a good presentation by Jens Kungl from the 64 billion euro METRO Group, which operates 2,400 retail locations in 31 countries. He knows a bit about retail, and Metro have been experimenting with RFID for some time, so his opinions need to be taken seriously. He began by making (strongly) the point that the best way to scupper an RFID project in retail is to begin tracking people instead of goods. In my opinion, one of the dangers here (and there are genuine privacy concerns that need to be addressed) is the regulatory response, which may be over-anxious, mis-targetted or plain wrong. For example

The Washington legislation outlaws the use of RFID “spy technologies” to collect consumer information without the owner’s consent. The only problem is, heavy corporate lobbying narrowed the scope of the law (before Governor Gregoire signed it) to cover only criminal acts such as fraud, identity theft, or “some other illegal purpose” (making it a Class C felony to do so). Collecting information from consumer RFID chips for marketing purposes in Washington—with or without the owner’s consent or even knowledge—is still fair game.

[From Washington State passes RFID privacy law; where’s Uncle Sam?]

Surely, collecting information for anything but the purpose for which is was intended is just wrong, and it doesn’t matter why it’s being collected. Anyway, the point of this post is that Jens said that the trigger for item-level tagging is the five euro cent tag and this has arrived sooner than they were planning, so they are going to begin item-level tagging earlier than they had originally planned (they are already rolling out pallet-level tracking). He also said something about two Watts at 868MHz, but he was losing me a bit there…

Incidentally, and apropos of nothing, he also had a airline baggage tag with an RFID inlay and he said that the cost of the paper was greater than the cost of the RFID inlay, which I found rather surprising. Given the recent demise of the airline ticket, surely the boarding card must next: if British Airways give me an Executive Club card with an RFID inlay then I could just use that. Is the universal identity management of stuff, which depends on cost-effective item-level tagging, really on the horizon now? I’m sure it must be.

These 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. Its only a few months ago that airline/airport people were saying that RFID baggage tags are a lot more expensive than paper ones, and so only major interchange airports could justify them being used. Therefore baggage arriving at those airports should have them them attached at departure airports (and the funding method would finance that).

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