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.
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.