The implication of Auto-ID
October 5, 2003
From Dave

"Theft will be drastically reduced because items will report when they are stolen, their smart tags also serving as a homing device toward their exact location." - MIT's Auto-ID Center Since the Auto-ID Center's founding at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1999, it has moved forward at remarkable speed. The center has attracted funding from some of the largest consumer goods manufacturers in the world, and even counts the Department of Defense among its sponsors. In a mid-2001 pilot test with Gillette, Philip Morris, Procter & Gamble, and Wal-Mart, the center wired the entire city of Tulsa, Oklahoma with radio-frequency equipment to verify its ability to track Auto-ID equipped packages.

Though many Auto-ID proponents appear focused on inventory and supply chain efficiency, others are developing financial and consumer applications that, if adopted, will have chilling effects on consumers' ability to escape the oppressive surveillance of manufacturers, retailers, and marketers. Of course, government and law enforcement will be quick to use the technology to keep tabs on citizens, as well. The European Central Bank is quietly working to embed RFID tags in the fibers of Euro bank notes by 2005. The tag would allow money to carry its own history by recording information about where it has been, thus giving governments and law enforcement agencies a means to literally "follow the money" in every transaction.

If and when RFID devices are embedded in banknotes, the anonymity that cash affords in consumer transactions will be eliminated. Hitachi Europe wants to supply the tags. The company has developed a smart tag chip that -- at just 0.3mm square and as thin as a human hair -- can easily fit inside of a banknote. Mass-production of the new chip will start within a year. Consumer marketing applications will decimate privacy "Radio frequency is another technology that supermarkets are already using in a number of places throughout the store. We now envision a day where consumers will walk into a store, select products whose packages are embedded with small radio frequency UPC codes, and exit the store without ever going through a checkout line or signing their name on a dotted line." Jacki Snyder, Manager of Electronic Payments for Supervalu (Supermarkets), Inc., and Chair, Food Marketing Institute Electronic Payments Committee Auto-ID would expand marketers' ability to monitor individuals' behavior to undreamt of extremes.

With corporate sponsors like Wal-Mart, Target, the Food Marketing Institute, Home Depot, and British supermarket chain Tesco, as well as some of the world's largest consumer goods manufacturers including Proctor and Gamble, Phillip Morris, and Coca Cola it may not be long before Auto-ID-based surveillance tags begin appearing in every store-bought item in a consumer's home. According to a video tour of the "Home of the Future" and "Store of the Future" sponsored by Proctor and Gamble, applications could include shopping carts that automatically bill consumer's accounts (cards would no longer be needed to link purchases to individuals), refrigerators that report their contents to the supermarket for re-ordering, and interactive televisions that select commercials based on the contents of a home's refrigerator. Now that shopper cards have whetted their appetite for data, marketers are no longer content to know who buys what, when, where, and how. As incredible as it may seem, they are now planning ways to monitor consumers' use of products within their very homes.

Auto-ID tags coupled with indoor receivers installed in shelves, floors, and doorways, could provide a degree of omniscience about consumer behavior that staggers the imagination. Consider the following statements by John Stermer, Senior Vice President of eBusiness Market Development at ACNielsen: "[After bar codes] [t]he next 'big thing' [was] [f]requent shopper cards. While these did a better job of linking consumers and their purchases, loyalty cards were severely limited...consider the usage, consumer demographic, psychographic and economic blind spots of tracking data.... [S]omething more integrated and holistic was needed to provide a ubiquitous understanding of on- and off-line consumer purchase behavior, attitudes and product usage.

The answer: RFID (radio frequency identification) technology.... In an industry first, RFID enables the linking of all this product information with a specific consumer identified by key demographic and psychographic markers....Where once we collected purchase information, now we can correlate multiple points of consumer product purchase with consumption specifics such as the how, when and who of product use." Marketers aren't the only ones who want to watch what you do in your home.

Enter again the health surveillance connection. Some have suggested that pill bottles in medicine cabinets be tagged with Auto-ID devices to allow doctors to remotely monitor patient compliance with prescriptions. While developers claim that Auto-ID technology will create "order and balance" in a chaotic world, even the center's executive director, Kevin Ashton, acknowledges there's a "Brave New World" feel to the technology. He admits, for example, that people might balk at the thought of police using Auto-ID to scan the contents of a car's trunk without needing to open it. The Center's co-director, Sanjay E. Sarma, has already begun planning strategies to counter the public backlash he expects the system will encounter.

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Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind. And when the drums of war reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has 'closed', the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all their rights unto the leader and gladly so. How do I know? For this is what I have done.
AND I AM CAESAR." --Julius Caesar

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