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RFID may give “Tag, you’re it!” a whole new meaning

Infoworld’s Ephraim Schwartz paints a picture:

Picture this: You’re sitting in the food court at your favorite mall with the family, munching on greasy kung pao chicken from Panda Express, followed by a warm, sweet Cinnabon, when a cordon of mall police surround your table, guns drawn, screaming at you to “Drop the bun and put your hands up!”

Reluctant as you are to give it up, you comply.

What went wrong? Your wife is wondering if you’ve been leading a secret life, but it’s nothing so exotic. Rather, the clerk at the Gap forgot to deactivate the RFID (radio frequency identification) tag in the sweater you just bought. When you passed an RFID reader, connected to the Wi-Fi enabled network, it sent a message to the security desk, and as you passed each RFID reader along the way, they tracked you down in the food court.

There is no doubt that RFID tags will be sewn into the lining of every item of clothing manufactured. Current RFID prices are about 16 cents each on orders of 10 million tags, with the price expected to reach a nickel a tag in a year or two.

By using RFID in clothing, not only will companies be able to discourage shoplifting, they’ll also be able to spot other frauds, such as counterfeit brand names or buyers who purchase an item at a discount outlet and then try to return it for the retail price at a regular store. Warranties can now also be easily tracked to date of purchase.

With those benefits to the supply chain, the question is, will the store really want to turn off the tag after the item is purchased, and how can you, as a consumer, tell? “What if you have some strange hobbies you’d like kept private?” Etterman asks.

It is certainly a small step from deploying RFID tags, which have a reach of only about three feet, to putting the readers in public places that already have hot spots. The combination is potent. Suddenly, the information in the tag can be transmitted over the Wi-Fi network and associated with all kinds of other data by all kinds of organizations, such as insurance companies. Or, you may be on the Most Wanted list at your local public library. Why shouldn’t they have a piece of you, too?

While these scenarios are not possible today, there is no technological barrier preventing them from becoming reality. Who can really say what’s next?

2 comments to RFID may give “Tag, you’re it!” a whole new meaning

  • Can you imagine if a burglar drove by your house, and thanks to the RFID tags on your belongings, he or she gets a quick inventory of everything that you have. Therefore, he or she has options on what to “shop”.

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  • Indeed how long will it be before governments decide that RFID ‘hotspots’ should exist in schools and pupils and students should have RFID tags embedded under the skin for the purpose of making monitoring attendance and discovering truants easier – and, of course, keeping children locked up safe and sound in school.

    The British government could quite easily market this scheme to parents as a way of protecting children from paedophiles by ensuring they are in the capable hands of state school teachers. A school-based RFID tag system could also be tied to computers and cell phone networks so that parents automatically receive text messages notifying them if their children have not turned up for a lesson or if they didn’t go to the library to do their homework when they said they would (some British state schools have already used text-messaging to parents as a means of identifying non-attenders). There are no doubt numerous parents who would willingly pay for their children to be tagged and tracked in this way.