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Errant E-Mail Shames RFID Backer 60

An anonymous reader writes "An article appearing in Wired today describes how the The Grocery Manufacturers of America inadvertently sent an embarrassing internal email to anti-RFID consumer group CASPIAN"
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Errant E-Mail Shames RFID Backer

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  • Don't overreact. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Raven42rac ( 448205 ) * on Monday January 12, 2004 @01:06PM (#7953465)
    Don't overreact. These are not the Diebold memos, it is just some woman who sent a non-funny joke back to the victim of the joke by accident. I don't see what the hubub is about. Granted, getting RFID awareness is good, but this story was a waste of time save for some of the info about RFID technology.
  • by fuzzybunny ( 112938 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @01:16PM (#7953586) Homepage Journal
    Well, kind of depends.

    If it's just a lame attempt at a joke, that's one thing. On the other hand, if the GMA guy's boss told him "find personal information on this Albrecht chick, she's being difficult", and the mail was a response to that, I'd be very concerned.

    If the latter is the case, the Wired article was very very tame considering how much of an embarrassment this would be for GMA. Digging up personal dirt on your business opponents, although it's done all the time, is simply not kosher tactics, and if an industry lobby and interest group is publicly admitting that it engages in this sort of unsavory activity to get its points across, then the average slob should know about it.
  • by Raven42rac ( 448205 ) * on Monday January 12, 2004 @01:23PM (#7953651)
    I can see both sides of the equation. It is very difficult to convey emotion and literal meanings of the written word. We just plain do not know if there was any malicious intent, or if the intern was just kidding around. I would lean heavily toward the latter as well. I just can't see where there would be blackmail in the RFID field. That would be kind of lame. That would be like trying to blackmail a polka dancer IMHO.
  • Re:It... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by reinard ( 105934 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @02:39PM (#7954428)
    Batteries? Have you ever even read anything about RFID technology? They don't have batteries, which is the only reason for their limited range. They get power directly from the radio waves.

    RFID tags in the packaging? They are now weaving them into of clothing, they are inside your tires, and in the handle of your razor.

    Disable them? Try microwaving your tire...

    The concern is that they don't deactivate themselves. And almost any RFID tag can be read by almost any RFID reader. So your boss can start checking how often you change your underwear, and indirectly can track you around the building by the tags in your clothing. Your car could be tracked at every intersection.

    It's not that there is an inherent problem, it's just ripe for abuse, and big step towards slipping into a police state.

    Most of us just don't want to get anywhere near there. There is most definitely a need for concern.
  • Re:It... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pbox ( 146337 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @02:41PM (#7954454) Homepage Journal
    Your sentence:

    These aren't much useful after you purchase the product...

    Should correctly read as:

    Currently these aren't much useful after you purchase the product...

    If all your garnments have built in RFID tags, it is just a question of installing RFID sensor all over the place, and have an uber-company evaluate all of the data, and your location can be tracked to a minitue detail. Would that worry you? (Than again almost everyone is toting a cellphone around - but at least that can be switched off)

    See what happened to tolltags, remember that lawyer murdered about a month ago? His movements were track post-mortem through the tolltag...
  • Re:It... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by reinard ( 105934 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @03:25PM (#7954905)
    The connection between what is yours and what belongs to others is easily made when you pay for it with your credit card, or use your club card and pay cash. Sure some items like ties and underwear may be presents, but how often do you buy tires for someone else? Or conversely, this enables the interested parties, without effort to establish connections between people. Customer A bougth item I1 that is now being worn by Customer B. And suddenly people you have no relation to whatsoever know who bought you a tie as a present around Valentine's day.

    Granted, your boss may not easily get access to this data if you are some small company, but the bigger that company is, the farther they can reach. And if you don't already know - you'd be surprised how willing large companies are to sell access to their customer databases.

    The problem is that tracking license plates, cell phones etc, is - as you say - a huge effort that isn't worth it, not even for the government, unless you are a suspected murdere etc.

    RFID tags make this much much easier - so much, that tracking the general public as a side effect is technically and financially plausible.
  • Investigators (Score:3, Insightful)

    by schmaltz ( 70977 ) on Monday January 12, 2004 @03:57PM (#7955181)
    A previously anonymous item of clothing, with a sewn-in RFID tag, has a potentially traceable history- where it was made, where shipped, warehoused at, retailed, who it was sold to, when, how much.

    I imagine this would delight both law enforcement and attorneys [] alike. DEA too [].

    You almost have to wonder if, despite our best efforts, in twenty years time when RFID is presumably more prevalent, that there will be developed a system which generates a snapshot profile of a person based on what the RFIDs in their possession. Perhaps not as accurate as a fingerprint, but enough variability that it could assist law enforcement in finding a person better than facial recognition, for example.

    Watch out racial profiling, here comes consumer profiling!
  • Re:Other coverage (Score:4, Insightful)

    by allism ( 457899 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .nosirrah.ecila.> on Monday January 12, 2004 @08:02PM (#7957667) Journal
    Funny, though - the article doesn't make it clear as to which action was the indiscretion - the comment about digging up Albrecht's juicy past, or the mistake of replying instead of forwarding...

    Not to mention, nothing that Molpus was quoted as saying in the article actually indicated that they weren't trying to dig up dirt...for instance:

    "Her request for a copy of your bio was simply a part of a normal effort to obtain information about those who lead organisations with an interest in industry issues"

    This could mean that they were only trying to get a bio, or it could mean that their normal effort is to find some ammunition in their target's current life. It's not terribly clear, to me, anyway, but I tend to wear a tinfoil hat...
  • by Merk ( 25521 ) on Tuesday January 13, 2004 @10:08PM (#7969129) Homepage

    Thanks for the links, but I still disagree on them. First of all, they're not exactly impartial sources -- hell, you even referenced the mothership of RFID fearmongers []. The clothing tags they talk about in all the articles are attached to the clothing, but not inconspicuously weaved into them: "an antenna-bearing chip smaller than a grain of rice that's attached to the clothes' labels". It's pretty easy to rip off a label, I do it for comfort pretty often. That's a longshot from one hidden by being weaved into the cloth.

    As for the tires -- GREAT! Being able to track tires like that should do wonders for safety. I have doubts that the tags will be readable at any great distance though. Besides, tracking cars is already pretty easy due to things called license plates. All kinds of red light cameras all over the world currently snap pictures of people running red lights, and use the license plate to ID them.

    Now Gillette -- they ordered a few hundred million tags -- what makes you think they actually want to put them on the handle, as you claimed? Wouldn't it make more sense to put them on the packaging, so they're easier to track? Besides, Gillette doesn't care about rasors -- they sell rasor blades. In my informed opinion, there's no way they'll fit an RFID tag on the individual blades, the read range would be tiny, and it would be impractical. On the other hand, they might put one on the blade package -- is that really so bad?

    Finally, there's the "significant distances" part. Under ideal conditions, you'll be lucky to get a read at more than 8 metres. With a wall in the way, or anything metal, or even metal too nearby, you'll get interference. I'm not saying it's impossible -- heck, there are devices that can see what's on your computer screen through a wall. On the other hand, the ability to do that is a long way off.

    Year by year, privacy is changing. In the 1500s most people lived in small towns, where everybody knew everybody's business. On the other hand, you could be pretty sure that if you were inside your house with the doors closed, nobody could see inside. These days, most people enjoy relative anonymity inside their cities, and can buy things over the Internet without anybody knowing what they're doing. But, at the same time, credit cards can track purchases, and lots of electronic surveilance is now possible.

    Sometimes when you gain convenience, you lose privacy. If I could get RFID-enabled tires, I'd love it. I could use an RFID reader to make sure that the tires were new from the factory, not refurbished ones from a car that had been in a wreck. Sure, there's some chance that someone might then track my car, but these days it's pretty remote. If it ever became a concern, I'd either change tires often, or buy RFID-tagless tires. When something threatens your privacy, you generally have an alternative. Phone taps? Get encrypted phones. Email snooping? Use PGP/GPG. People reading your computer screen over your shoulder? Get a privacy screen. HTTP cookies bother you? Use Privoxy. I'm sure the same will be true for RFID.

    The fight shouldn't be about the availability of RFID tags, and RFID-tagged products, it should be about keeping your options open. It shouldn't be illegal to remove your underwear tags -- if they ever show up. It shouldn't be illegal to get non-RFID-tagged tires.

    Anyhow, this is the type of debate I think is useful, where both people are informed, and backing up what they say. (Btw, if you doubt any of the engineering stuff I'm saying I can try to find a way to back it up, but it's out of first-hand knowledge, so I don't have references on hand). I just hate it when people say "RFID is eeeevil because it lets the Government track your Cornflakes!!!"

"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva