Wednesday, August 27, 2008

RFID: Facial Profiling

I've been in a state of ennui about RFID - Wal Mart demands it, the government wants it, the citizenry decry it, techies deploy it, blah, blah, blah, nothing new - but Emily Steel's August 21, 2008 report in the Wall Street Journal (The Ad Changes
With the Shopper In Front of It)
electrified me.

Steel writes: “In the latest effort to tailor ads to specific consumers, marketers are starting to personalize in-store promotions based on products the consumer recently picked off a shelf or purchased -- and in the near future, based on what the shopper looks like.” Steel goes on to describe a relatively mundane Procter & Gamble RFID deployment at a Metro Extra store in Germany and a specific marketing effort at two Dunkin' Donuts locations in Buffalo, New York.

Then her article gets interesting: “Most of the experimentation by marketers is being done with the new digital screens that are appearing next to cash registers and in store aisles. Because cameras are embedded in many of these digital screens displaying the ads, marketers are hoping to serve up ads based on the consumer's appearance.

The company powering the screens for Dunkin', YCD Multimedia, is in the midst of deploying facial-recognition technologies that can classify people into certain demographic groups by identifying their approximate age and their sex.

Companies in the securities industries have been experimenting with facial-recognition technologies for some time. The technology often works by capturing an image of a person and using sophisticated algorithms to analyze features like the size and shape of the nose, eyes, cheekbones and jaw line -- against databases of face information. At the 2001 Super Bowl in Tampa Bay, Fla., for instance, security officials used facial-recognition technologies to scan for terrorists and known criminals.”

As menacing as the technology sounds, it was Steel's closing line that really set my hair on end: “Technology firms hope to ward off any potential privacy issues by not capturing and storing any personally identifiable information about consumers.”

WHAT?!?! “Not capturing and storing any personally identifiable information about consumers”... other than capturing the facial scan. And other than capturing and storing the consumers electronic transaction data. And other than capturing and storing an electronic dossier of what method of payment was made in whose name and of what billing address. So, other than capturing and storing all of that information (some of which is distinctly personally identifiable) and simultaneously capturing a facial scan (by nature as personally identifiable as it gets) and capturing and storing the relationship between the tandem captures, this nifty lil' technology poses no potential threat to consumer privacy.

More to follow.

Monday, May 05, 2008

RFID and Wal-Mart: It's All About Money

RFID and Wal-Mart: It's all about money
By Frank Hayes

May 5, 2008 (Computerworld) What if you threw a technology party and nobody came? Wal-Mart is in that position with RFID. In 2003, the retail giant said it wanted its 100 largest suppliers to put an RFID tag on every pallet of merchandise delivered after January 2005 -- and the rest of its suppliers to join the party soon after. But as Computerworld's Sharon Gaudin reported last week, it hasn't worked out that way.

Five years in, Wal-Mart says many of its top suppliers are tagging their pallets. Some, like Procter & Gamble, met the 2005 deadline. But about 70 of the top 100 didn't. Today, some smaller suppliers are on board as well, including Daisy, a family-owned sour cream maker that started RFID tagging in 2006.

But most of Wal-Mart's 60,000 suppliers aren't using RFID. They complain about costs and technology immaturity and costs and lack of examples and -- oh yeah -- costs. But, bottom line, they're not doing it.

By any reasonable measure, that marks Wal-Mart's RFID mandate as a failure. After half a decade, the party seems to be over.

You're probably not Wal-Mart. But on a smaller scale, you have the same problem. You have to find ways to get suppliers on board when you're trying to implement a new technology that extends beyond your business.

Maybe it's RFID, or old-style EDI, or a supply chain system. Whatever it is, there's one thing you've got to remember:

It's all about money.

It's not about technology. It's not about business processes. It's not about the size of the supplier or customer. It's not about coercion or cooperation.

In the end, it's about the cost of doing business. Cost is what your new system is intended to reduce for your company. And cost is what will make partners balk at signing on.

That's important to remember, because we in IT tend to see the world in terms of technology and process and scale and integration. To us, money isn't the hard part. But for suppliers being strong-armed into an IT project, money may be the biggest part of the deal.

And that can be an advantage.

Case in point: Wal-Mart's answer to suppliers that still haven't implemented RFID is a money solution. Wal-Mart subsidiary Sam's Club will soon start charging suppliers $2 or more for each pallet that doesn't have an RFID tag.

It's a clever solution: Wal-Mart isn't calling it a penalty, just a charge for putting the 10-cent RFID tag on the pallet. And that makes the supplier's business decision one about the cost of implementing RFID vs. the cost of not implementing it.

Even Wal-Mart can't force suppliers to join its RFID party. But the company can turn a decision about technology into one that's about dollars.

You can't force partners to buy into your technology plans, either. And your CEO won't dump a supplier just because it doesn't conform to IT's plans.

So assume that some suppliers won't buy in. Be sure you build a way around that problem into your technology plan. And make certain you include from the start what Wal-Mart only added years after its original RFID mandate: a clear dollar cost to suppliers that reject your new technology.

That way, you don't need to count on buy-in. And you won't have to eat the cost of that half-empty party yourself.

Sure, you'll still have to sell that idea to your CEO. But even the most tech-clueless CEO understands money. And that somebody has to pay for the party -- one way or another.

Frank Hayes is Computerworld's senior news columnist. Contact him at frank_hayes@

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

RFID: Software

It's no surprise that RFID has become a hot topic in retail over the past few years. With recent gains in technology, RFID is now more accessible than ever and small retailers are directly reaping the benefits.

Software Advice recently wrote an article on the trend that highlights four key points for the small retailer:

1. RFID reports provide greater transparency into product movement along the supply chain and help retailers avoid stock-outs.
2. RFID makes inventory tracking simple. Instead of scanning each item individually, a handheld RFID scanner can count a box of inventory in one sweep.
3. RFID minimizes the potential for human error at the point-of-sale.
4. RFID dramatically reduces customer checkout time as cashiers can complete a sale without having to scan individual tags.

The article, aptly titled is clearly written for those new to RFID. However, the web site offers a range of software solutions resources for the novice to the sophisticate in the construction, medical, and retail industries. Worth checking out if you're in the market.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

RFID: She Wore An Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny ID Chip In Her Bikini

In her July 26, 2007, RFID Journal article
, Mary Catherine O'Connor reports that the New Jersey community of Ocean City plans to replace their current system of inert plastic access cards with "waterproof, plastic wristbands containing passive RFID inlays" by the summer of 2009, with the goal of making "a trip to the beach more pleasant and convenient for the many vacationers who spend much of their summer there."

If these RFID wristbands will be so pleasant and convenient for beach visitors, why do Ocean City administrators (or is it MRI, the consultancy helping the city develop the wristband system) falsely water down the capabilities of the proposed RFID system?

According to O'Connor's report, “Fixed-position RFID interrogators mounted at entrance and exit points throughout the beach and boardwalk will read the visitors' wristbands, then use the Wi-Fi connection to transmit the RFID data over the wireless network to city administrators. The officials will then be able to maintain rough estimates of the number of people on the beach and boardwalk throughout each day, and to determine security and clean-up staffing levels accordingly.”

In reality, tagging visitors with RFID wristbands will provide much more than “rough estimates of the number of people on the beach and boardwalk”. The Ocean City plan to link “a payment account, such as a credit or debit card, to the number encoded to each wristband” (in order to simplify transactions with food and parking vendors) means that city administrators will know exactly how many people are on the beach and boardwalk each day and – more importantly - exactly who those people are. They will know where you park, what food and drinks you purchase, who you socialize with (and where and for how long), when and for how long you are in the bathroom, and exactly when you leave the beach.

I realize that we're not dealing with deep, dark secrets here, but do you really want strangers spying on you like this?

I doubt that anyone at the Ocean City visitor's bureau will explain the RFID wristbands to you that way.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

RFID: Seminar to Address RFID Legal and Public Policy Issues

As appeared in RFID Journal:

Seminar to Address RFID Legal and Public Policy Issues

Leading legal and policy experts will address privacy, data security, government mandates, patent liabilities and other critical issues.

April 9, 2007—International law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge and U.S. trade group Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) will cosponsor an RFID Legal and Public Policy preconference seminar at RFID Journal LIVE! 2007, being held April 30 to May 2 in Orlando, Fla., at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort. During the seminar, scheduled for the afternoon of April 30, leading legal and policy experts will address privacy, data security, government mandates, patent liabilities and other critical issues.

"This is a chance for RFID technology providers, end users and implementers to learn what potential liabilities they face as they sell or adopt RFID systems," says Mark Roberti, editor and founder of RFID Journal. "It's also an opportunity for corporate legal teams and business leaders to learn about the potential impact that government adoption and legislation of RFID technologies will have on their businesses."

Dan Caprio, president of the Progress & Freedom Foundation; Kathleen Carroll, director of government relations for HID, a leading manufacturer of proximity and smart card technologies; Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, and Doug Farry, managing director of McKenna Long & Aldridge, will bring attendees up to date on legislation introduced by a number of states to control RFID as well as the implications of electronic privacy and data-security legislation being considered by the federal government.

Jennifer Kerber, a director of the Information Technology Association of America, and Joe Rinzel, vice president of state government affairs for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, will address the likely impact of government RFID mandates, including state drug-pedigree laws and possible pedigree rules from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Mark Powell, director of the Technology Center of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; Rel Ambrozy, a partner with McKenna Long & Aldridge; and Doug Farry of McKenna Long & Aldridge will inform attendees about possible patent infringement lawsuits and how end users can protect themselves from such suits. The panel will also explain how the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is changing the way patents are filed and disputes are resolved as part of sweeping changes in U.S. patent law proposed by Congress.

Various countries around the world have assigned different parts of the UHF spectrum and different interference standards for RFID use, which increases the cost of RFID products and adds to the complexity of global deployments. In the United States, the Bush administration is developing comprehensive policies designed to better allocate and manage limited spectrum for an increasing number of competing technologies, including Wi-Fi, WiMAX and RFID. The new policy might very well impact where RFID systems can operate and under what rules and conditions. Changes in domestic and international spectrum allocations and standards could have a big impact on RFID technology providers and end users.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

RFID: Trossen Robotics - Playing With a Full Deck

Trossen Robotics announces their RFID Playing Card kit, which includes 2 complete matching decks and 60 RFID labels (54 for cards + 6 extra).

Some assembly is required (kits are shipped with labels not yet applied)and according to Trossen "...this deck is meant for fun & experimental purposes. The RFID labels are different sizes than the cards and are hard to place perfectly so a sharp eye could learn which cards are which. This deck is intended for home projects, school projects, demonstrations, proof of concept, etc."

What will this mean for the amateur gambler?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

RFID: Spying Has Never Been Cheaper

According to, Trolley Scan has introduced "small RFID reader systems which give new users the ability to evaluate UHF RFID and their applications without needing specialised skills." (Great! Why should the lack of specialized skills stand in the way of violating someone else's privacy?)

"The systems are supplied with one of two versions of their famous low power transponders - among the smallest, lowest power passive UHF transponders available anywhere in the world - and the super sensitive receiver capable of reading credit card sized transponders from 2 cms to 13 meters from the reader.The tags can also be attached to metal objects still giving full operating range.

The systems comprise a reader, antennas and 100 transponders based on the EcoTag technology. The user just connects the reader to a computer to have a fully operational system."

Trolley Scan offers complete kits in two sizes:
Small - 100 transponders for EURO1800 (approx US$2340) plus shipping and local taxes, and the more ambitious Medium - 1000 transponders for EURO4500 (approx US$5850) plus shipping and local taxes.

Check back soon for the ultimate in spying convenience - Trolley Scan's portable reader, which will be available for an additional EURO100.

Thanks, Trolley Scan, for keeping invasion within the reach of the working class!