RFID craze

Before you dive into this, some background info on a current technological darling: RFID. And now brace yourselves – it’s a rant.

The number of uses is simply mind-boggling:

  • You get shops with RFID-tagged products and smart shelves equipped with tag readers – the product itself can then tell management of its success: how many times people picked it up and then left it one the shelf again – or if they didn’t even consider buying it and just left it sitting there.

But then there’s slightly more fishy stuff going on:

  • RFID tagging at airports: no, not luggage, that would be too useful and not intrusive – why not tag people? Tag your passengers and follow their signal around the airport – and drag them to the boarding gates if necessary. No more unnecessary delays due to absent minded passengers too busy chatting someone up in the waiting room.
  • There are pilot projects in which employees of a certain firm are tagged: their PDAs, laptops, any mobile device they might be using. Readers around the company’s facilities help locate employees at any given time (I wonder why 24 hasn’t worked this into their scripts yet). As usual, there’s a fine line between efficiency (if you’re going to have tagged employees to make keyless access possible, for instance, why not also track them and know which meeting board someone’s in) and utter disrespect towards people’s rights (we all know how creepy HR departments can get).

All this tagging individuals so lightly suggests lots of other potential uses – and inevitably words like ‘privacy’ and ‘Big Brother’ spring to mind – yet again. (I never said I wasn’t one paranoid puppy.) But then someone uttered the magic word: “security”. Why is it that I keep remembering Benjamin Franklin these days?

There’s an excellent piece on this and other RFID issues here:

“Security professionals need to realize that RFID tags are dumb devices. They listen, and they respond. Currently, they don’t care who sends the signal. Anything your companies’ transceiver can detect, the bad guy’s transceiver can detect. So don’t be lulled into a false sense of security.”

Private uses too: you could tag your phone, keys, wallet and any other object you might forget to take with you, then your reader-equipped door would scream at you if it noticed you were going out but failed to detect the signal of any of those items. Never get locked out of your own house again.
But, anyway, you know things are getting plain stupid when you read patent descriptions like this one (yes, it is a real patent from 2005):

USE – E.g. wireless tag and radio frequency identification (RFID) tag attached to bill, coin, securities, certificate, bearer bonds, stock certificate, promissory note, license, resident card, stamp, gift coupon, wrapping paper for lunch box, plastic bottle“…

Wait – did someone just write “wrapping paper for lunch box”? And coins and bills? Go ahead – tag all your spare change, you might want to track down where it ends up in a couple of months. Oh, right – it’s all about making it impossible for thieves to get away with bank robberies. I get it.

But there’s more:

“(…) ship, food and beverage bottle, footwear, health care items, medical devices, health appliances.”

Because you never know where you might’ve left your dessert and definitely need your food and your lunch box wrapping paper and your – wait, there it is, your health care items tagged. Ladies, you might want to tag sanitary towels too. And I’ll drop it before it gets way messier.

I shudder to think the number of unique signals my reader would have to deal with if I just stopped and tag every bloody item I take with me. Keys, wallet, phone, meds box – that, I get, but food and coins? What, each and every one of them?

Give me a break.

But then there’s the geeky side to it. Two words for you: implants and cyberpunk [and the game].

I’ve got to admit to drooling at the thought of cyberimplants. I do. And I’m certainly not the only one, so you might want to read and see it for yourselves. [I’m warning you though, “Inserting the tag” shows exactly what the title says and it’s not for the squeamish. If you’re put off by piercings, you won’t like watching this.]

But then being attracted to the concept of implants doesn’t mean I approve of the ones involving trackable signals and ID (but that’s another story and shall be told another time). The fact that ID tracking related implants are getting so much more attention (aka public funding) than, say, artificial vision and brain implants seems to me unsettling.

But that’s just me.


~ por nushh en 2006/10/22.


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