Security

When RFID chips get a little too personal


RFID is getting some recognition in the news lately, from chips in Mini Cooper key fobs generating personalized messages on billboards ("Via RFID, these billboards know you by name") to embedding chips into humans for medical-record tracking ("Patients, doctors staying away from implantable RFID chips").

In the former story, 4,500 of the 150,000 Mini Cooper owners in the United States were invited to participate in a marketing trial called Motorby. For those who consented, customized messages appear on digital billboards. "The boards, which usually carry typical advertising, are programmed to identify approaching Mini drivers through a coded signal from a radio chip embedded in their key fob. The messages are personal, based on questionnaires that owners filled out: 'Mary, moving at the speed of justice,' if Mary is a lawyer, or 'Mike, the special of the day is speed,' if Mike is a chef."

I can't imagine working for the creative team at the advertising agency that's assigned to come up with all of these personalized messages. How catchy or clever can you be for Mini drivers who are funeral directors, proctologists, or *ack* IT professionals?

In the latter story, "Only 222 medical patients in total have opted to get RFID chips from VeriChip implanted as of the end of 2006, according to documents filed by the company with the Securities and Exchange Commission as part of its initial public offering. ... Putting RFID chips into people's arms is, it turns out, not a booming business."

If we merge these stories together, it's not unrealistic to think about a future where billboards, road signs, door entryways, drive-throughs, ATMs, and all other electronic/digital devices immediately have our personal information and greet us by name. Can you imagine putting coins into a vending machine and having it talk to you - or worse yet, having it suggest healthier snack alternatives? "Good morning, Sonja. Are you sure that you don't want a granola bar instead of a frosted poptart?" I don't know about you, but I would not be okay with that.

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Sonja Thompson has worked for TechRepublic since October of 1999. She is currently a Senior Editor and the host of the several blogs.

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