Communications of the ACM on RFID

The last issue of Communications of the ACM is a special issue about RFID tags. Here is a summar by editor Gaetano Borriello about the contribution:

Joshua R. Smith et al. describe an approach to integrating basic movement-sensing with tags and how they might be used to infer human activity, specifically, which objects people manipulate.

Ramesh Raskar et al. take this concept further by integrating light sensors into tags to add location- and geometric-reasoning to RFID tag/reader combinations. Applications range from identifying warehouse contents, to shelving books in libraries, to assisting robotic assembly procedures, to detecting obstructions on remote railroad tracks Sherry Hsi and Holly Fait focus on a particularly interesting application involving the Exploratorium in San Francisco, a science museum using RFID tags to help visitors interact with exhibits within the museum, allowing them to register and document their interests, then extend the visit after they've gone home. However, as appealing as such extended scientific discovery may be to most of us, many museum visitors, in fact, forgo this potentially rewarding experience, fearing it could open them up to violations of personal privacy.

Miyako Ohkubo et al. address the problem of lost personal privacy head on, providing a way to continuously scramble a tag's ID after every read so that only the tag's authorized users are able to keep track of their scrambled IDs.

Oliver Günther and Sarah Spiekermann take on the consumer's view of the inherent risks to their personal data privacy in RFID-based applications and why solutions (such as scrambled IDs) are only the first of a series of measures to ensure consumer participation in RFID-based retail deployments. The goal is to win consumer trust by giving them some amount of control—possibly legally mandated—over the RFID infrastructure and its uses. Otherwise, RFID vendors and RFID-enabled retailers risk losing them as customers.

And, finally, Bruce Eckfeldt cautions RFID-enabled retailers everywhere that they risk the same fate if they fail to consider—in advance—how the consumer might directly benefit or lose from their technology investment..

Why do I blog this? RFID is a more and more important technology but privacy issues are REALLY not that simple. I skimmed through the pages quickly but it seems to give a good overview of the field, judging from other studies I read in the past 2 years. I think the editor's conclusion is quite standard in nowadays' feeling about RFID:

This sampling of RFID technologies and their applications will help show what is possible and what is promised in consumer uses of passive RFID tags. Moreover, as tags get cheaper, smaller, and more capable, we can expect many as-yet unimagined beneficial yet potentially invasive uses in areas as diverse as health care and entertainment. As RFID technologists, application developers, and consumers, we must all be vigilant as to how these systems are designed not only for the sake of efficiency and cost but also to safeguard consumers' privacy and instill their trust in the technology