The Ultimate Privacy Argument Against RFID

Opinion: A new book-Spychips-uses patent applications, interviews and document searches. Privacy arguments tend to be emotional, often expressed in terms of "security versus privacy."

Privacy arguments tend to be emotional, often expressed in terms of "security versus privacy."

A new book out about the future of RFID goes far beyond that. The authors of Spychips do not hesitate to go for the emotional jugular frequently, using references and examples from the Bible, the Nazis, the Russian government and the George Orwell classic 1984.

But they also make a stunningly powerful argument against plans for RFID being mapped out by government agencies, retail and manufacturing companies. Sources and evidence for their arguments come from patent applications, interviews and confidential documents carelessly left on vendors Web sites.

This wont be comfortable reading in the IT departments of major retailers and manufacturers, but it is essential. IT is the group charged with being creative and making the technology do the magic that marketing needs it to do.

But who is charged with being the corporate conscience? Whose job is it to make sure that the corporation, in its pursuit for greater profits and market share, doesnt go too far in exploiting information on their customers? Far too often, that decision falls on marketing executives who, the book eloquently argues, are stunningly ill-suited to the task.

A favorite anti-marketing passage: "Researchers have found that marketing students score lower on measures of ethics and academic integrity than any other university majors."

The passage said business majors cheated more than their peers and that "marketing majors cheat significantly more than their peers in other business disciplines."

The books thrust, though, is a detailed analysis of RFID trends. It effectively debunks many of the top arguments about why RFID is not a privacy worry.

Consider the use of RFID in hospitals and the frequently-cited media comment that the leading cause of death due to medical errors in caused by patient or drug misidentification. The book talks about that comment on the Web site for Precision Dynamics Corp., which is attributed to The Institute of Medicine Report, written by two doctors from the Harvard Medical School of Public Health.

Theres just one problem with that reference, the book says: That report makes no reference whatsoever to patient or drug misidentification having any impact on patient deaths.

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