Wired reports that the companies and organizations behind radio-frequency identification tags are scrambling to improve their image by promising to protect the privacy rights of consumers, after they were caught trying to dig up dirt about one of their most effective critics. They also announced development of devices that disable RFID tags, which they are placing on everything from shampoo bottles to suit jackets in the United States and Europe.
Privacy groups, led by Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering (or CASPIAN), fear that businesses and governments can use those signals to track individuals’ movements inside stores and in public places. One organization may have been shamed into soliciting CASPIAN’s advice, however. The Grocery Manufacturers of America this week inadvertently sent an internal e-mail to CASPIAN suggesting it was looking for embarrassing information about the group’s founder, Katherine Albrecht.
The e-mail, written by a college intern at GMA, reads:
I don’t know what to tell this woman! ‘Well, actually we’re trying to see if you have a juicy past that we could use against you.’
Wal-Mart, which tested RFID tags and readers in at least two of its stores last year, said it would adhere to the RFID privacy guidelines published by EPCglobal, the EPC standards body. The guidelines require companies to publicly state how they plan to use data collected from the EPC tags. Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sarah Clark insists:
We understand and care about the concerns that some of our customers have about privacy and, as always, we put our customers’ needs first.
CASPIAN’s Albrecht said she welcomes tag-killing technologies, as well as the overtures by RFID users who want to work with her.
I just hope they’re looking for a real dialogue about the implications of this technology and not simply trying to appear concerned.