Why Bad Notice Can

By Evan Schuman  |  Posted 2006-06-22 Print this article Print

Be Worse than No Notice"> The serious problem with such notification requirements is that, without proper consumer education, the sign wont mean anything to many consumers. I can see Costco trying to turn the displays into marketing promotions: "Now including the miracle ingredient RFID at no extra cost!"
Theres also that wonderful part about audio indicators on RFID readers. What did Ontario have in mind? Sirens? Maybe the Darth Vader theme music? Or possibly just a clip of someone saying "I see you"?
Heres a well-intentioned one: "Organizations should not use or disclose RFID-linked consumer information for any purpose to which the individual has not consented." The only problem is that retailers will likely throw such language into the fine print on the back of every loyalty card, check-cashing card or anything else, including credit card slips. As long as fine print exists on unrelated documents, such consumer consent will have little value. Its certainly a good thing that some government officials are thinking through where RFID could go in terms of consumer protections. But government edicts without industry support wont help much. Remember those strange commercials that touted the benefits of a particular prescription drug? For years, the government gave the pharmas two choices: either describe the drug and not mention its name or mention the drugs name but do not say what it does. Im no advocate of giving pharmas cart blanche to advertise to consumers however they want, but those particular U.S. government rules did little protect consumers. It just resulted in some very bizarre commercials. I fear the same thing happening with RFID. Through the use of highly technical terms and fine print, I doubt many consumers would internalize the information that Ontario wants them to have. Will they think it has something to do with pacemaker interference? Is it to get discounts? Does it have something to do with stores Wi-Fi or maybe Bluetooth? Back in December 2004, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer called a news conference to promise legislation to regulate how retailers handle return policies. That legislation was never introduced. Although Schumers office has never officially explained what happened, some who were working on the legislation said that it became quite difficult to legislate wording and policy on something so customizable and also so proprietary. In other words, the exact methodology to determine excessive returns could be thwarted if fraudsters knew the particulars. While Schumer gets credit for ultimately never introducing the legislation, he gets debits for holding a news conference to announce that he would. There is a common thread between the two. On a surface level, forcing return policies and RFID tracking policies to be public sounds like a good thing, but digging down deeper, its very complicated to do it in a meaningful way that will actually advance the public cause. Will government leaders score points by announcing rules and then abandon their efforts without enforcement? Im not surprised when it happens in the United States, but I had higher hopes for Canada. Editors Note: This story was updated to clarify where in Canada the privacy guidelines apply. Evan Schuman is retail editor for Ziff Davis Internets Enterprise Edit group. He has tracked high-tech issues since 1987, has been opinionated long before that and doesnt plan to stop anytime soon. He can be reached at Evan_Schuman@ziffdavis.com. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on technologys impact on retail.

Evan Schuman is the editor of CIOInsight.com's Retail industry center. He has covered retail technology issues since 1988 for Ziff-Davis, CMP Media, IDG, Penton, Lebhar-Friedman, VNU, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0 and United Press International, among others. He can be reached by e-mail at Evan.Schuman@ziffdavisenterprise.com.

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