Smile, you’re on RFID cam

In case you’re not paranoid enough, look at a website devoted to alerting people about the existence and potential geo-surveillance capabilities of Radio Frequency ID tags.

RFIDs are tiny specks of computer chips that are used to track items at a distance. For more information, check out the post about the use of RFIDs for automated car rental and an earlier post about how RFIDs will replace barcodes.

The website, Stop RFIDs, compiles reports of where RFIDs are being placed, “hidden”, in products you might buy at Wal-Mart, Target, CVS or Tesco.

These companies say that they want RFIDs for inventory control (when to restock the shelves) and marketing strategies (who buys what constellation of products). The website makes the all-too believable claim that they are being used to spy on people.

The site brings up the example of Gillette razors, which contain RFIDs in the packaging. The RFIDs can sense when the razors are picked up because the packaging moves away from sensors located under the store shelves:

Whenever a shopper picks up a packet of razor blades from a spy shelf, SNAP! A hidden camera secretly takes a closeup photo of the shopper’s face. (And a second photo is snapped at the cash register to make sure the product is paid for!)

(Wonderful. Now they’ll know when I have stubbly legs.)

More importantly, the use of RFIDs has implications for geodemographics, the study of the where people live by what people buy. Think Minority Report, where every passing advertisement knows who you are and what you like (in terms of products). Or “redlining”, a concept in which companies draw a virtual red line around a community and refuse to offer services there, such as mortgages (too many people in the community are defaulting) or health care (too many people buy fatty foods). Doesn’t matter what you consume because you’re defined by your geographical location.

RFIDs have implications for the war on terror as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if the government didn’t start tagging religious books such as the Koran or books on radical environmentalism. If you bought such a book then the government would know it and could know, depending on the density of sensors, when and where you were carrying it.

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