TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: You Need Not be Paranoid to Fear RFID

You Need Not be Paranoid to Fear RFID

Monty Solomon (
Wed, 12 Oct 2005 04:29:51 -0400

By Hiawatha Bray

It's one of the cutest of those cute IBM Corp. TV commercials, the
ones that feature the ever-present help desk. This time, the desk
appears smack in the middle of a highway, blocking the path of a big

"Why are you blocking the road?" the driver asks. "Because you're
going the wrong way," replies the cheerful Help Desk lady. "Your
cargo told me so." It seems the cartons inside the truck contained
IBM technology that alerted the company when the driver made a wrong

It's clever, all right -- and creepy. Because the technology needn't
be applied only to cases of beer. The trackers could be attached to
every can of beer in the case, and allow marketers to track the
boozing habits of the purchasers. Or if the cargo is clothing, those
little trackers could have been stitched inside every last sweater.
Then some high-tech busybody could keep those wearing them under

If this sounds paranoid, take it up with IBM. The company filed a
patent application in 2001 which contemplates using this wireless
snooping technology to track people as they roam through 'shopping
malls, airports, train stations, bus stations, elevators, trains,
airplanes, rest rooms, sports arenas, libraries, theaters, museums,
etc.' An IBM spokeswoman insisted the company isn't really prepared to
go this far. Patent applications are routinely written to include
every possible use of a technology, even some the company doesn't
intend to pursue. Still, it's clear somebody at IBM has a pretty
creepy imagination.

And it's not just IBM. A host of other companies are looking at ways
to embed surveillance chips into practically everything we purchase --
and even into our bodies. It's a prospect that infuriates Harvard
graduate student Katherine Albrecht.

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