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RFID
March 11, 2003 1:21 PM   Subscribe

Is RFID inherently Evil? Not a chip in your body, like EvilCorp Applied Digital Solutions proposes, but in your household products, your clothes, and your car. And it's here now. With almost no law anywhere to restrict its use. But then again, how often do you use products made or sold by Benetton, Prada, British retailer Tesco, Proctor & Gamble, and Wal-Mart? Phillips Semiconductor alone has already sold half a Billion of these chips.
posted by kablam (34 comments total)

 
But then again, how often do you use products made or sold by Benetton, Prada, British retailer Tesco, Proctor & Gamble, and Wal-Mart?

Very seldom if ever. Here's just one more reason not to.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:27 PM on March 11, 2003


Is RFID evil?

Is privacy good?
posted by NortonDC at 1:29 PM on March 11, 2003


oh I don't know, the advantage to these is pretty big. Theorietically, You could go right through the checkout aisle without having to scan anything. The technology's similar to ez-pass. The aisle would have a radio scanner that automatically summed up your purchases. However, they'd have to be removable, or else anyone could tell what kind of underpants you were wearing on the street.

Was that ever in an Orwell novel?
posted by condour75 at 1:31 PM on March 11, 2003


Many libraries are looking into using RFID tags, which would allow people to simply walk out of the library with books, rather than going through the laborious checking-in and checking-out process. What an improvement that will be.
posted by waldo at 1:31 PM on March 11, 2003


The question was "Is RFID inherently Evil?

I say NO. Like most anything - it can be used for good or bad. I just hope they clearly label anything that contains one (kinda like a kosher symbol on certain foods). I'd love to hear from some Luddites, but I don't know that they post here too often.
posted by stormy at 1:37 PM on March 11, 2003


How close does a scanner need to get to them to pick up the signal? using energy from the passive scan can't be enough to create boost a signal more than inches or feet.. and from what i've seen, these RF tags aren't as small as a grain of sand, more like a pencil eraser head. like you can't find that and rip it off of your tag, much like you do annoying t-shirt labels that chafe your neck...

*runs to the hills and shoots himself*
posted by shadow45 at 1:39 PM on March 11, 2003


They say that there are no plans to stockpile customer info, yeah, like corporations would ever do anything like that.

So when do they start keeping tabs on your credit card info and centrally processing your purchases, and what you wear each day, who you give gifts to and what they get, etc. and we end up with more fucking spam, more telemarketing calls at 7 AM on Saturday, more junk mail, more shitty products marketed particularly for us, etc. great. The library thing sounds even better, like Information Awareness isn't going to subpoena that info at the drop of a fucking hat!
posted by Pollomacho at 1:42 PM on March 11, 2003


And here I thought libraries were trying to protect the privacy of your reading habits from the nefarious types. Anybody with the right receiver and ID code translator will know that you've just checked out "The Anarchist's Cookbook", a copy of the Constitution Of The US, Kaczynski's Manifesto, "The Satanist's Bible", and Erica Jong's "Fear Of Flying". (you terrorist pervert!)

There's nothing inherantly evil in this technology, but are we as consumers really ignorant enough to think that RFID will NOT be used in the cause of "National Security"? I don't care if WalMart tracks my buying habits...I don't shop there enough to have a habit to track. But there is nothing on the books to stop authoritarians from tracking my purchases, reading matter, and movements. I, for one, believe that they would do just that.
posted by Wulfgar! at 1:54 PM on March 11, 2003


I dunno. It seems that RFID's could increase productivity and make shopping an easier experience. The current technology is pretty passive, requiring a reader to be fairly close to the tag. The tags themselves can only hold so much information. Problems arise 10 years from now as the technology improves.

This is an example of how legislation needs to occur before RFID's are in common use. I think the scarier portion of the post points out the the use of RFID is currently unregulated. A problem of modern technology is that it often evolves in a moral/legal vacuum. Perhaps we should start trying to make our leaders (congress people, MP's, what-not dictators, etc) aware of our concerns before our concerns grow up and become realities.
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:55 PM on March 11, 2003


Well if they're already tracking all those things, the question is, does RFID make it easier to do than John can do by subpoenaing your library or credit card record? If your library is already computerized, then there's already a "file" on you. The only advantage RFID would create is that the Man could stand out on the street with a scanner, theoretically, and see what you were reading, then follow you. So again -- they should be removable, or read once. Like Elwood says. some regulations would be a good idea. Either legal or contractual (read walmart's privacy policy before shopping) But I don't think this technology is inherently evil.
posted by condour75 at 2:04 PM on March 11, 2003


The tags themselves can only hold so much information.

The article states that the tags can potentially hold much more information than they are now programmed with.

How difficult is it to boost a signal or to place tracking stations at intervals around say Manhattan. How difficult would it be to follow a specific signal that someone knows was purchased with a specific credit card?

How about they put these in guns? Then bars, banks, schools, convenience stores can track when a gun enters the premises, cops can trace which specific gun was used in a crime, who bought it, etc...
posted by Pollomacho at 2:05 PM on March 11, 2003


The tags don't need to hold information, they just need a unique number and all the info is in a database somewhere. When the pound finds a dog with an RFID in it, the scanner just returns a value e.g. "2902089593" and that value is put into the pet tracking database, revealing all the information the owner put into the form.

What I don't like about this whole "RFID Everywhere!" fad is that the manufacturers are going out of their way to embed this stuff in the product itself AND the retailer could care less about disabling the chip after the sale. That's a real privacy concern. Why not make the things die after sale or peel them off like current anti-theft tag? Sure, its nice to have a tag that will never peel off, or get peeled off by a thief, but the privacy issue is being ignored on a level that makes me uncomfortable.

Ignoring tracking by law enforcement, government, etc do we really want a GAP billboard yelling, "That sweater is 15 months old, you unfashionable slob! Go buy a new one." Or more realistically, "Hello Mr. xxxx, I noticed your sweaters have gotten old, we have a sale on...." Minority Report-style.
posted by skallas at 2:13 PM on March 11, 2003


The tags don't have to hold much information, just enough to point to all the rest of the information.

The tags broadcast IDs absolutely unique to that particular instance of that piece of product that you bought, that particular single one. Buy it with a check, credit card, check card, or a supermarket customer card and you have just connected the dots between that radio transmitter and yourself.

All it takes is the unique ID on the chip. All the rest happens behind the scenes. Remember when they said web cookies couldn't be used to track surfing because they were only readable by the server that sent them? That became moot once outfits like Doubleclick centralized ad serving. The same vulnerability exists here. Only with real cookies, and everything else you need to survive.

But then again, I'm just a database guy in a US government intel outfit, so what would I know about data privacy concerns, right?
posted by NortonDC at 2:13 PM on March 11, 2003


Maybe they can link then to people's TIVO's so that wherever you go the sales people will already know that you are a 26 year old strait male that prefers his porn soft core and involving cheerleaders and his tee-shirts blue, long sleeved and washed in mountain spring tide.

I don't want my e-mail address on my MeFi profile, like I want the Gap to know that I came in twice last week!
posted by Pollomacho at 2:29 PM on March 11, 2003


Is RFID inherently Evil?

YES, yes... and yes. The more we take people out of the equation, the faster we... well, whatever. It's evil.
posted by Witty at 2:37 PM on March 11, 2003


do we really want a GAP billboard yelling, "That sweater is 15 months old! Go buy a new one."

Hell yes. That is about the coolest thing I've heard of recently.

1) Privacy concerns: Since people with something to hide will avoid broadcasting that by carrying around these tags, it becomes worthless as a government monitoring tool. Despite the obvious talking points this provides for privacy fetishists, this technology reveals less private information about you than using a credit card or surfing the net. Non-issue.

2) Since the tags can be removed, companies will have little incentive to develop systems to read them and then bombard us with ads. Non-issue.
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:37 PM on March 11, 2003


Speed and convenience are the advantages that will be touted to the consumer, but the real value is to the retailer and the manufacturer, lowering costs in the supply chain. So, corporate profits go up, my privacy is gone, but hey, I'll shave 18 seconds off my checkout time at Wal-mart.

Is there a shelf-life for these things? That is, how many times can they get pinged before they burn out? Can there be an expiry date built in, or a set number of pings before it dies? (Although even then you have to trust the manufacturers to play by the rules and build in the expiry mechanism.)

Since the tags can be removed, companies will have little incentive to develop systems to read them

I think it's a little tougher than that. With clothes, for example, what's stopping the manufacturer from weaving them into the fabric? Seems to me that the tags can been deeply enough embedded that you'll have to damage the product to remove them.
posted by RylandDotNet at 2:42 PM on March 11, 2003


Pollomacho, check out the list of brands on P&G's Web site. I'll bet you use products from at least one of them. There's over 300, including Bounce, Charmin, Cheer, Clairol, Cover Girl, Crest, Dawn, Downy, Era, Fixodent, Folgers, Head & Shoulders, Herbal Essences, Ivory, Joy, Luvs, Max Factor, Mr. Clean, Nice 'n Easy, Noxzema, Olay, Old Spice, Pampers, Pantene, Pepto-Bismol, Pert Plus, Physique, Pringles, Puffs, Sunny Delight, Swiffer, Tampax, Vix, Vidal Sassoon, and Zest, among others.
posted by hyperizer at 2:43 PM on March 11, 2003


Doesn't anyone know how to disable/remove these things?
posted by eustacescrubb at 2:47 PM on March 11, 2003


Oh darn! I forgot the *juiciest* one of all!

Euro bank notes to embed RFID chips by 2005

But hey! It's for a good cause! Like, to defeat terrorism or it's for the children or something...
posted by kablam at 2:48 PM on March 11, 2003


A radio frequency pulse at the same frequency as the reader device uses but at much higher power would probably burn them out pretty quick.

Hmmm... the opportunities for mischief capture the imagination... toss the local Wal-mart into chaos by killing all their RFID tags. Or even better, broadcast a low-power signal from outside the store, set off their anti-theft detectors.
posted by RylandDotNet at 2:53 PM on March 11, 2003


"and you have just connected the dots between that radio transmitter and yourself"

Since I can take the tag out, and I can buy the item with cash anyway, this seems like a dubious dot connection.
posted by y6y6y6 at 3:03 PM on March 11, 2003


You could put transmitters/recievers around your house, then you could see a 3d map of your house with the correct location of all your shit.


I think Bruce Sterling did a short story on tech like this.
posted by Iax at 4:45 PM on March 11, 2003


Theoretically, You could go right through the checkout aisle without having to scan anything. The technology's similar to ez-pass. The aisle would have a radio scanner that automatically summed up your purchases.

But how would the scanner tell which items you were buying, and which ones you brought into the store? If I buy a pack of gum at one shop and carry it in my pocket into a second shop, how do I avoid be re-charged for it?

Many libraries are looking into using RFID tags, which would allow people to simply walk out of the library with books, rather than going through the laborious checking-in and checking-out process. What an improvement that will be.

Well, it wouldn't be quite that easy. They still need to connect the books with the borrower somehow. The only savings would be in the "laborious" process of scanning the barcodes.
posted by greengirl at 4:49 PM on March 11, 2003


Does anyone here live in Tulsa, OK? If so, YOUR ENTIRE CITY is being wired to detect these chips, WHEREVER THEY ARE.

This is the "cradle to grave" tracking. And though they harp on the "three foot" limit, eventually, as soon as inventory enters the city it will be tracked, through warehouses, retailers, and the homes of consumers, all the way to the city dump.

It's also happening right now at the San Francisco airport, the University of Connecticut, Rockerfeller University, Sears, K-Mart, Gillette, Philip Morris (whatever they are calling themselves now), International Paper and Westvaco Corp., the nation's second-largest supplier of cartons and packaging.

But hey, it's only three feet, any more than that and it won't work, right?
posted by kablam at 6:32 PM on March 11, 2003


From the article: "Because the ID is embedded in the clothes ... any item returned to the store automatically re-enters the inventory. "

I'll be sure to wear several pair of underwear, pants, and shirts next time I'm in Walmart. I'll walk in and out of the door a half-dozen times. They won't know wtf is happening to their shelf stock!
posted by five fresh fish at 7:27 PM on March 11, 2003


>>and you have just connected the dots between
>>that radio transmitter and yourself"
>
>Since I can take the tag out, and I can buy the item with
>cash anyway, this seems like a dubious dot connection.
>posted by y6y6y6

So how will you know you've gotten all the tags? And perhaps you missed this from kablam: Euro bank notes to embed RFID chips by 2005
posted by NortonDC at 9:59 PM on March 11, 2003


Man, all I can say is I hope you people never use a credit card to buy anything, never visit a library, never use a cell phone, and have TEMPESTed your computers. Otherwise I think you're kidding yourselves on how much someone could find out if they had the access even today.

Hell, I wish the things had a little better range than they do, I just about have to beat the receiver with my card to get into the parking lot (I'm pretty sure the card uses either these chips or something pretty similar). It'd be nice if the thing had the range to pick it up without rolling the window down.
posted by piper28 at 10:02 PM on March 11, 2003


It's not called tempest anymore.
posted by NortonDC at 5:38 AM on March 12, 2003


Pollomacho, check out the list of brands on P&G's Web site. I'll bet you use products from at least one of them.

I live deep in the city on the east coast, there is a Whole Foods less than a block from my house, I'll be worried when they start putting them in the recycled, organic hemp, algae and henna all-natural hippie shampoo.

Y6, I'm starting to think YOU might be working for THEM!

Seriously, I know I sound like a kook, but I'm just fucking sick of being electronically monitored in everything I do I'm about ready to move to a cave and live naked. I despise advertising (TV, print, you name it), sleazy salespeople, infomercials, spam, MTV bullshit, junk mail and telemarketing which I now lump in to ONE category of evil. This thing is such a huge tool for those assholes that I despise it too.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:50 AM on March 12, 2003


Man, all I can say is I hope you people never use a credit card to buy anything, never visit a library, never use a cell phone, and have TEMPESTed your computers. Otherwise I think you're kidding yourselves on how much someone could find out if they had the access even today.

I'm not kidding myself, I know that they are reading that shit and I fucking hate the bastards! I don't want to make it EASIER for people to read my shit! Leave me the hell alone I don't want your crap (by the way I don't have a cell phone, mainly because I don't want to be bothered when I don't want to be bothered, but of course I have to listen to everyone else's conversations and ringers don't I?!?)!

Anyone know if Ted Kazinski's shack is on the market? I'm not looking to blow anyone up, I'd just like to get away for a while.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:56 AM on March 12, 2003


You could get around this by swapping your stuff or money with friends, relatives or even total strangers, which ought to utterly confuse the system. Mail your GAP sweater across the globe for some really creative disinformation!
I am a bit of a Luddite when it comes to consumer manipulation though - I even dumped my supermarket loyalty card so they couldn't keep a record of what I buy.
posted by tabbycat at 11:51 AM on March 12, 2003


I love these sabotage ideas! The swapping, the 12 pairs of underwear to Wal Mart (they should all be different kinds, styles and genders too, just to further fuck with things), the frying the system from the parking lot! Anymore great ideas? What about rare earth magnets? Could I carry one of those into a Gap and pass it over several stacks of, say, pants and blow all their chips?
posted by Pollomacho at 12:09 PM on March 12, 2003


tabbycat's got it - if you can't avoid the system altogether, flood it with misleading data. Buy things and give them as gifts, get EVERY supermarket card and use them all at random, lie about your phone number and zip code to radio shack when you buy batteries, fill out every survey response card with the wrong information, stick chips from new products onto old products and give them to Good Will...

For every lock, there is a key.
posted by UncleFes at 2:16 PM on March 12, 2003


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