associated press discovers RFID

In sensationalist fashion, the AP covers the growing ubiquity of computer chips, particularly in the form of radio frequency ID tags. How these tags will sniff out the geolocation of individuals and objects and sense their capacities. In one patent,

Once somebody enters a store, a sniffer [sensor] “scans all identifiable RFID tags carried on the person,” and correlates the tag information with sales records to determine the individual’s “exact identity.” A device known as a “person tracking unit” then assigns a tracking number to the shopper “to monitor the movement of the person through the store or other areas.”

But as the patent makes clear, IBM’s invention could work in other public places, “such as shopping malls, airports, train stations, bus stations, elevators, trains, airplanes, restrooms, sports arenas, libraries, theaters, museums, etc.” (RFID could even help “follow a particular crime suspect through public areas.”)

Another patent, obtained in 2003 by NCR Corp., details how camouflaged sensors and cameras would record customers’ wanderings through a store, film their facial expressions at displays, and time — to the second — how long shoppers hold and study items.

Then there’s a 2001 patent application by Procter & Gamble, “Systems and methods for tracking consumers in a store environment.” This one lays out an idea to use heat sensors to track and record “where a consumer is looking, i.e., which way she is facing, whether she is bending over or crouching down to look at a lower shelf.”

Scary stuff since all it does is make us fear for our personal privacy without a sense of proportion or possible recourse. Still the reporter does a good job reporting on the history of RFIDs and their broad applicability.

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