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Privacy Technology

An ID Number for Everything 391

jon323456 writes "Put this in your privacy pipe and smoke it. According to, MIT researchers have cooked up a new barcode that has enough dataspace to include a unique serial number for everything. And in combination with RFID tags...."
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An ID Number for Everything

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  • Gillette (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Neophytus ( 642863 ) * on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:39AM (#6824036)
    Gillette was listed as an attendee. This is the same gillette who took photos of customers [] purchasing their products using an rfid-triggered cameras.
  • by Felinoid ( 16872 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:43AM (#6824090) Homepage Journal
    I remember when someone was selling data keys that carried a 512k ERPOM.

    I was thinking "Passcode"... Dude it's a key why not use it as the ultimate key. Hack hack got nothing on me.

    Now with 512k you'd have not just enough room to ID everything but enough room to breath.
    Made it tight enough and someone will enter random codes just to get results.

    And then there is the mistakes.. accadentally using the wrong code. It would be better if a defective ID tag gave an error than a false result.
  • by surstrmming ( 674864 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:46AM (#6824122) Homepage
    It has been shown that IPv6 will provide 4 IP numbers per square centimetre of space on earth. That should be enough to cover all products. My proposal would be to make the UPC the same as a IPv6 number, and then make the barcode show the item's IPv6 address. Network configuration would be simplified - just scan the barcode - and the item wouldn't need a UPC *and* a IPv6. They would be the same. That would simplify marketing and tracking as well, items such as coke cans and underwar could simply be ping:ed on the net. No need to bother with those RFID tags.
  • by immel ( 699491 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:47AM (#6824142)
    How do I know that I will not accidentally eat one of these chips when biting into my next apple? To really put these RFID tags on everything, they have to make them edible, too. Also, many fruits and bulk items have no packaging and are often sold by weight, so how will they make an RFID chip for that?
  • Re:Barcode? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ExportGuru ( 130832 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:50AM (#6824170)
    This ought to be a snap. 120 countries have already agreed to an eight-digit system for identifying everything. It's called the Harmonized Tariff Schedule. The U.S. adds two more digits. The U.S. edition stretches 2100 pages. Take a peek at it at
  • Database (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nonameisgood ( 633434 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @11:11AM (#6824393)
    Man, I don't want to be respomsible for that database.
    Hey, Microsoft, maybe you'd like a shot at this one? Then everyone would be happy knowing that there data may not be secure, but when it crashes (not if), we all get to start over.
  • by Junior J. Junior III ( 192702 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @11:14AM (#6824428) Homepage
    So you have a 96-bit ID number. That means you have 2^96 unique numbers.

    Make a tag for each one.

    Let's say for the sake of argument that the tags weigh 0.01 grams.

    Now make all 2^96 of them. You have just created 792,281,625,142,643,375,935,439.50336 kg of tags.

    That's a shitload of tags! For reference, Planet Earth has a mass of 5.972e24kg. Your tags would weigh 1/132 as much as the entire planet.

    That's less than 1%, but that's still a MAJOR volume of tags. We'd be choking on them. They'd be everywhere.

    At 1,000,000 tags per second, how long would it take to manufacture 2^96 tags? 7,922,162,514,264,337,593,543 seconds. That's 2,512,308,552,583,217 years.
  • When I read this line (from the article):

    "Under EPC, every can of Coke would have a one-of-a-kind identifier."

    It occured to me that it's quite possible that such unique id's on consumable items could later get tracked back to their purchasers, then automatically impose a littering fine on them if said Coke can is found empty and discarded on the ground somewhere.

    I don't really see that as becoming a reality, but it's possible.

  • by hattig ( 47930 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @11:18AM (#6824459) Journal
    I think that there would be problems encoding more than 10 or so bar patterns to deal with the extra characters, however.

    Admittedly you could have more bars to compensate.
  • by schmink182 ( 540768 ) <> on Friday August 29, 2003 @11:25AM (#6824545) Homepage
    First of all, moving to 14 bits from 12 adds quite a bit of room. Sure not as much as 96 but still. The move to 14bit is happening next year.

    This is true, but eventually, in maybe 10 or 20 years, the 14 digit codes will also run out. The people at MIT understand the costs of upgrades, so they figure why not do it only once.

    Second, they ramble on about "labeling every can of coke" but they never mention how much it'd cost to label a 10c can of coke.Yes they do. They mentioned that MIT is working on reducing the cost per EPC/RFID pair from nickels and dimes to fractions of a penny, since consumers would rather not tolerate an across-the-board price increase.

  • by Helpless Will ( 244732 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @11:26AM (#6824559)
    Cars have the VIN number secreted in multiple locations (not just the one you see on the dashboard)to aid in identification of vehicles in the event of theft, among other reasons.

    As many reading this, I imagine, can speak to, it hasn't done a great deal of good in recovering their cars.

  • Tracing trash (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hoi Polloi ( 522990 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @11:58AM (#6824870) Journal
    The same exact thought occured to me. Right now, if someone dumps garbage in, say, a park the only way they can investigate it is if there is a witness or they find addressed mail (or similar papers) in the pile. Now they'll just have to put bar codes on all of those damn Dunkin Doughnut coffee cups I constantly see on the ground.

    I'm sure we'll see a market for microchip destroying devices of some sort for home use if RFID's ever take off in significant numbers.
  • by ZamesC ( 611197 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @12:23PM (#6825102)
    To be usable, the new system would have to mimic the current one, with some bits dedicated to a manufacturer ID number, and some bits for a product-id-within-that-manufacturer numbers, with the new system adding more bits for individual-item-id-within-product number. Each field must be made large enough to accomidate all manufacturers (ie, CocaCola has few products, but ships millions of each, while a book publisher would have thousands of products but with some only shipping a few hundred). This means that a lot of bits are "wasted" -- although they would be available to the manufacturer for their own subdivision. (Let's say it give 32bits for individual item id. A vender could say 1 bit indicated continient it made one, 3 bit for the country, 3 bits for the factory within that country; 7 bit, year; 4 bits, month; 5 bits, DOM; 9 bits, items made that day.)
  • by pmz ( 462998 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @12:33PM (#6825221) Homepage
    if said Coke can is found empty and discarded on the ground somewhere.

    All it would take is a little wind to blow it out of the over-full trashcan it was carefully placed in, or a homeless man to accidentally drop the can on the way to the recycling center.
  • Re:96 bits??? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gregmac ( 629064 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @12:35PM (#6825244) Homepage
    I could give you uniqueness using only 64-bits.

    Sure, for a while. Back in the 70's, I'm sure they figured that 12-bit barcodes were plenty. According to the article, they're now starting to run out.

    It's called thinking ahead: Design a system that will last at least twice as long as you think you'll need. Yeah, 64 bits is incredibly huge. They're talking about serializing every product made by every company with a unique id. So say we plan on it lasting 100 years. That's still like 184,400,000,000,000,000 unique id numbers, per year (64bit). Actually, that does seem pretty damn excessive.

    But who knows - maybe there will be other uses for this space as well. Using a few bits to encode sizing/weight information, color, hazards, if it's flamable, disposal instructions, etc, to allow simpler devices to read it without having to link to a database somewhere. A good example of this is the licence scanners some bars use: they swipe your drivers licence, and it shows the info encoded on the card, and they compare it against the info printed on the card. It doesn't link back to a database to verify anything, its just a simple device to help prevent fake id's. Same sort of thing could apply here for shipping purposes, and probably lots of other things, too.

    It's a lot easier to just use 96 bits now, than switching to 64 now, and then having to switch to 96 again in a few (or many) years.

  • by gerardrj ( 207690 ) * on Friday August 29, 2003 @01:10PM (#6825558) Journal
    After reading the article I don't understand a few things:

    1. Why the article's title on CNET mentions "futuristic barcode" when the project is apparently in relation to low capacity (96bit) RFIDs or the like.

    2. Why it took 5 years to develop. RFID technology is readily understood. Databases are readily understood, wireless communication is readily understood. Prototyping hardware and writing some connectivity software should not have taken 5 years for such a "group". I'm either dissapointed or confused.

    3. Why give each tag a only specific serial number that MUST be looked up in the database to ID it. The current barcode mass-grouping is still valid even with more bits. A stripped down database could then be used for off-line reading and you would still know the manufacturer and possibly the product family. For example barcodes starting with "636920" are from O'Reilly; all barcodes starting with "05000" are from Nestle. Isn't that much easier than having NO idea what "aj380dk358fh3k8i" is?

    4. Why access a database directly? Why not use the Internet and stanard DNS and HTML/XML? Purchase a domain and make simple IRLs that include the tag info: ? The server would see the code, and send back a response containing one of two things: 1: the product information in XML (including a link to more info from the manufacturer), 2: an error. Such a thin HTTP/HTML client could be written quite quickly and be embedded in almost anything. There are already many synconization and caching sytems in place for HTML.

"The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception a neccessity." - Oscar Wilde