RFID Arena

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Consider the safety element

As RFID has found its way to the fashion streets, privacy issues have arisen as a hot topic among retailers and consumers. While consumers are concerned about their privacy, retailers would like to use RFID in new ways to reduce vandalism and shoplifting.

Privacy arouses strong feelings: consumer interest groups like to make it sound as if retailers want to follow consumers in the Big Brother style and on the other hand many retailers would rather not tell consumers how they use modern technologies. We in Europe seem to be more sensitive to such discussions as the American's, where retailers choose to do what is best from their point of view to serve customers, yet still collect profit - just as business should. A discussion about the potential of RFID from the point of view of the consumer is still somewhat missing.

When shopping, the consumer should always have the option to leave without an active RFID tag in her shopping bag. The tag could be killed at the point of sale or removed to be used by the retail chain on another item. But, consider also the other view: Using RFID tag for my (the consumer's) benefit. Personally, I believe that the care instructions of a garment will be in the form of a tag in the future. This is based on the idea that laundry machines will recognize all the care labels of the clothes put inside, and if trying to switch on the laundry machine with a program of 40 degrees and having a dry clean garment inside, the machine wouldn't start the program until the garment requiring dry cleaning has been removed. If you removed the tag, your laundry machine would still wash the garment with the program you have chosen, so nothing need be in definitive, even if it means you will have just ruined your garment. And what about an item to which a service is bundled to? Imagine buying an expensive wedding dress or a pair of leather shoes worth of 500€. Perhaps the shoes will include a two-year warranty or the dress is a free of charge washing. How does the retailer control this? With the help of your carry-on RFID tag. Not all RFID needs to harm the consumer.

Its a fake

But what can the retailer do for your garment so that you cannot be tracked later? One of the solutions is based on a separate price information tag and another one including the care instructions. This means that when you have purchased a shirt and next time you go to the store wearing the shirt, the sales assistant taking inventory won't notice your shirt since it has been purchased already and the code of the tag is no longer active.

To explain something about the RFID tags themselves: the memory banks of the tags can all have different settings. All the banks can be locked in a way that they can never be rewritten or that they can be rewritten with a password. In practice this means that the store personnel could write new information onto the tags. One of the reasons for locking the memory banks of tags is vandalism: I believe there will be a time when the vandalism in shops will be based on information systems instead of physical damage. Perhaps someone will try to write an application, which aims to mess up all the EPCs (RFID information), rewrite them as zero or change the prices. But, in reality, the fix for this already exists and is used: lock your tags. Another reason for locking and perhaps even encrypting data is a different kind of vandalism: product copy-cats, who try to benefit of a well-placed brand. Preventing the recreating of your tags - perhaps even using a database with the RFID tag being combined to another physical identifier - would allow your resellers to refuse any counterfeit products.

As the technology changes, different means to protect products change as well. I guarantee you retailer, these issues are better to think about now instead of in a few years.

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