Data Intelligence: Media Fearmongers Give RFID a Bad Rap

Bad RFID news is so common because many “journalists” have bought into the popular notion that the RFID industry is ignoring privacy concerns.

Bad News travels fast." It's an old adage but it's certainly true. Think about it: When was the last time you saw "good news" about RFID being picked up wholesale by popular print, broadcast or electronic media? Don't strain yourself. The answer is, "Um, never?"

There are two types of "bad" news when it comes to RFID: negative reports on the technology (always good for a slow news day) and just plain shoddy reporting. The two tend to go hand-in-hand and, with the use of the Internet, they do so at the speed of light.

Much of the bad publicity lately has been directed towards RFID-enabled documents and clothing tags that will supposedly allow "THEM" to spy on you and track you wherever you go. But that's where the real danger of bad news lies. Reporters, even some tech-savvy ones, tend to lump all RFID together and imply that the capabilities and limitations of each type of RFID applies to all of them.

Sooner or later, you and your company may have to deal with these issues and dispel the myths being propagated today. The privacy (spying) issue has already hit home with some RFID-labeled products (e.g., computer printers) shipped to Sam's Club where the product packaging is also the shipping container. While these products aren't intended to be "item level" tagged, the realities of supply chain logistics don't differentiate between the item and the shipping container.

Why all the bad RFID news? First, today's society seems to expect news to be bad. "No news is good news" has become "good news is no news." RFID just happens to be the current technology "whipping boy" because it has the most "buzz." And this buzz is self-perpetuating.

Want proof?

Google "RFID" and count the listings about privacy invasion or technology risks on the first three pages alone: six. (Ask.com is kinder: only one.) Then Google "CCTV" (closed circuit TV), a technology being increasingly deployed to— pay attention here—identify and track people on city streets without their knowledge or consent. Hmmm, zero negative listings on the first three pages.

Sounds odd, doesn't it? The difference appears to be that people aren't being asked to actively carry a piece of this technology in their pocket. CCTV quietly captures every citizen, immigrant, illegal alien, pet, dust bunny and vehicle passing the camera's location.

Bad RFID news is so common because many mass media "journalists" have bought into—and propagate—the popular notion that the RFID industry is ignoring privacy concerns. Never mind all the current and future benefits of RFID.

Yes, there are some valid concerns about RFID but they're being addressed on a technical and systems level. That's rarely mentioned. Why? Because it's much more entertaining to point out what "could" or "might" happen at some point in the future if the technology evolves in that direction. The supply chain stuff is just plain boring.

This also leads to the second reason there's so much "bad" news. RFID is not a simple, sound-byte-friendly technology. It requires a real understanding of products, performance, systems, applications and even a little physics. And you need to keep current with advances on a daily basis—not easy to do in today's deadline-driven news environment.

So, why this diatribe against "bad" news? Simply this: you can do a lot to help get accurate reporting on RFID (you get it here, so not to worry), even if it is actually bad news. How? Reply to journalists directly or via the "talk back" feature available on many websites and point them to reliable sources of information for their next article. It's a small action but you might even get some "buzz" going on it.

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