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Embedded Microchips In Virtually Everything 186

Microsoft CRM recommends a long AP article laying out the nightmare scenario of RFID chips in everything tracking not only things but people. The darker possibilities of a technology capable of enabling ubiquitous surveillance are not news to this community, but it's not so common to see them spelled out for a wider audience. "Microchips with antennas embedded in virtually everything you buy, wear, drive and read, allowing retailers and law enforcement to track consumer items and consumers wherever they go. Much of the radio frequency identification technology that enables objects and people to be tagged and tracked wirelessly already exists and potentially intrusive uses of it are being patented, perfected and deployed... [A director at FTI Consulting] said:] 'It's going to be used in unintended ways by third parties — not just the government, but private investigators, marketers, lawyers building a case against you.'"
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Embedded Microchips In Virtually Everything

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  • Class division (Score:4, Insightful)

    by webmaster404 ( 1148909 ) on Sunday January 27, 2008 @12:14AM (#22197984)
    I expect that all the new "smart devices" will create a class division within developed countries, those who can program and those who can't. We already have part of it with Best Buy and other computer retailers trying to sell you at least $300 in extra hardware/software/support even though you don't need it yet the uninformed take the bait and end up spending money they don't need. Also, the same thing is happening with computer repair and support, if you don't know whats wrong tech support is more than willing to test every combination and then charge you for the privilege of fixing it along with any other thing that /might/ be wrong.
  • Fuzz Busters.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aero2600-5 ( 797736 ) on Sunday January 27, 2008 @12:23AM (#22198036)
    As soon as RFID chips start appearing in all of our items, the market for devices that destroy them without damaging the article itself will very quickly materialize. Honestly, if I can figure out how to destroy them easily, I may be in on that market.

    And then they'll make tougher RFID chips, and we'll make tougher devices to kill them. And this war will escalate just like the Radar vs Radar Detector arms race. What are the cops using now? Negatively modulated phased arrays doppler assisted with frequency hopping? Exactly.

  • FUD (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JRHelgeson ( 576325 ) on Sunday January 27, 2008 @12:25AM (#22198044) Homepage Journal
    The RFID chips have a transmission range of 3cm, thats one freakin' inch. If you have a large antenna, you can get 30cm range (1 foot).
    Half the people I know use a key card to access/unlock doors at work. Those things have an RFID chip in them. How close do you have to hold those up to the reader? Yup, 3cm.

    If you had a 6' satellite dish mounted on the back of a truck, you could theoretically blast out a signal strong enough to activate the RFID receiver and get it to reflect back a signal to the dish, but the weakness of the return signal is so minute that you still would not be able to hear the return signal past 10' away.

    Sorry, but does the government really care if you have any more "hot pockets" in your freezer? These articles are more about scare tactics than reality.

    Now, a concern that has been brought up is programmable RFID chips. If your can of Campbell's Tomato soup had a programmable RFID tag then a customer could program it with self replicating code and place it back on the shelf. Then, when the store took inventory and scanned the shelf, the "infected" can of soup would receive the energy pulse and reply not with the information the reader is looking for, but with a reprogramming signal that would "reprogram" the cans of soup around it with the self replicating code. Could you imagine a whole WalMart being quarantined due to an RFID worm outbreak?

    It isn't really possible, the return signal from an RFID chip isn't even strong enough to power up an RFID chip next to it, but it is nevertheless fun to think about.

    Read my /. journal article on RFID chips and the need to adopt them.

    Joel Helgeson
  • by timmarhy ( 659436 ) on Sunday January 27, 2008 @12:26AM (#22198052)
    I won't buy anything that tracks me, just like i refuse to purchase software the requires it to phone home.
  • by webword ( 82711 ) on Sunday January 27, 2008 @12:26AM (#22198054) Homepage
    RFID and related technologies will only continue to push us down the path we are already on. There are cameras all the place, we constantly give up our addresses and credit card numbers, and even our grocery discount cards are tracking our purchases. This isn't going to slow down or let up. The trick will be to understand and govern what is in place, not necessarily slow down the technology changes we're seeing.

    There's little in the way of choice left regarding the use of this technology. It's too pervasive, in more sense than one.
  • Over here! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 27, 2008 @12:31AM (#22198066)
    You can effectively already be tracked via cellphones, electronic transactions, and all the cameras out there, both public and private. Not to mention al the people who see you.
  • Re:Class division (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 27, 2008 @12:35AM (#22198092)
    I don't see how that translates into a new class division. What you describe is the benefit of being proficient in any field. Likewise, a mechanic could take me for a ride while someone who knows cars won't be so easily fooled. A doctor (or nurse) would be prevent themselves being taken by another health care provider (when they go to the doctor)....
  • Re:Ok, (Score:2, Insightful)

    by theoverlay ( 1208084 ) on Sunday January 27, 2008 @12:35AM (#22198096)
    I agree that rfid is not so scary if you know the details of the implementations. There are many systems already implemented that are a lot tougher to circumvent than these things. The recent Dutch $2B transit system [] is a great example although I know this article is referring to somewhat different usage scenarios. The knowledge is power as always. []
  • Re:Class division (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 27, 2008 @12:40AM (#22198110)
    >Also, the same thing is happening with computer repair and support, if you don't know whats wrong tech support is more than willing to test every combination and then charge you for the privilege of fixing it along with any other thing that /might/ be wrong.

    This is different from cars... how?

    If you come in with an unusual problem (outside of simple stuff like "timing belt", "spark plugs", "oil"), and give them a vague description like "Oh, well, you know, I was just driving it and now, well, it doesn't 'go'" and when you're asked "What kind of car do you drive?", you say "Uhhh, a black one", and when asked "Did you try starting it?", you say "Oh, I should do that? I just left it running, it's outside my house right now.", "Have you ever changed the oil?" -- "It needs *THAT*? WTF?!? I want a car, not an oil slick!"

    Yeah, you're going to be billed up the ass for the issue then, since the tech has to spend 2 extra hours doing the stuff YOU are supposed to figure out on your own as a car owner (Like brining the car there, what brand of car it is, how old it is, if the oil's been changed, etc, etc).

    Be assured, I work tech support, this is about the equivalent of what I get. Yesterday, I had a customer write down Start -> Email because they couldn't remember that's how to get to their email (dead serious). This is normal, and quite honestly, I've had customers who find doing something as simple as that incredibly difficult.
  • by erexx23 ( 935832 ) on Sunday January 27, 2008 @01:08AM (#22198210)
    I have read that passive tags can be read from 1 inch to 40 feet.
    And Active tags can be read up to a mile or more.

    The range all has to do with cost and need.
    With all tech reducing cost is only a matter of scale and time.

    As with all things its also only a matter of time before malevolent use any tool or technology occurs.

    So while I agree that Orwellian references to RFID technology are certainly overblown,
    Dismissing the need for caution and prudence with any technology can only lead to big problems in the long run.

    As you pointed out so well a soup can worm could shut the doors on a supermarket.
    I think that this is a simple example of what could be the tip of a greater iceberg once truely talented indiviuals
    start taking advantage of an embedded technology that is only bound to evolve.
    Once it become part of the system it will be hard to get rid of.
  • by DigitAl56K ( 805623 ) on Sunday January 27, 2008 @01:50AM (#22198380)
    Voting with your wallet is effective only when a large number of people do it. Take Walmart for example - you can easily find lots of people who claim a Walmart has ruined their neighborhood, but as long as thousands of others hand over their cash to get the cheaper goods on offer it doesn't make any difference. If you suffer for your cause, but your suffering has no impact, why make yourself suffer?

    RFID is poised to go this way - I don't like it either, but unless it's widely rejected a handful of people protesting it won't make the difference. The best plan for RFID proponents is to make it so widespread so quickly that you have no option but to buy essential goods that are RFID tagged, and once you start doing that, why avoid some goods and not others?
  • Easily blocked (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Sunday January 27, 2008 @02:11AM (#22198456) Journal
    RFID tags transmit incredibly weak signals. The only power available to them is what the tiny antenna can convert from RF transmitted by the reader. A simple battery-operated transmitter operating at the same output frequency(ies) as the tags can easily interfere with the RFID tags transmission making it impossible for the reader to decode its signal.

    Also, reading the tags is really easy (and cheap). I bought a reader for $50 that uses a simple serial interface. I connected it to a PIC microcontroller, wrote some relatively simple software for it, and output IrDA via an IR LED so I can display the data on a Pocket PC.

    Dan East
  • by wellingj ( 1030460 ) on Sunday January 27, 2008 @02:33AM (#22198514)

    If you suffer for your cause, but your suffering has no impact, why make yourself suffer?
    I would suffer because it makes a difference to me. This is why the US is sliding into the crap-hole, its because everyone shrugs and says "Well that's just the way it is." Fuck that. And if you are going to be one of those people who doesn't stand up for themselves, well fuck you too. By giving up like that you just made it harder for anyone who does give a damn.
  • by novakyu ( 636495 ) <> on Sunday January 27, 2008 @02:38AM (#22198534) Homepage

    They can't track your phone when it's off. It can't be tracked if it's not emitting a radio signal. Maybe you think off means something other than off?
    However, they can make it very difficult to turn our phone REALLY OFF. I assume you already know the story about roaming data charge on iPhone [] (which may or may not have been entirely the user's fault). Assuming we can put any stock in anecdote, I had a similar experience with my RAZR (yeah, behind the times, lame):

    I had an important meeting with my boss and a few colleagues, so I turned my RAZR off before the meeting. I usually have a bunch of alarms and reminders that go off every couple hours or so. Well, guess what---even though the phone was "off" (as in when you flip the phone on, it doesn't show anything and you can't make an outgoing call (I don't know about incoming call) without pushing the power button for a few seconds), it came back on by itself to blare off a reminder that I had set months ago.

    If a phone that's supposedly "off" can do that, why do you think they can't make it so that they can still track you while the phone is "off"? Monitoring battery usage isn't exactly an exact science, and not everyone has access to electronics that can tune to GHz signals that cell phones use (and good luck discriminating it against background noise). For now, we can remove the battery to be doubly sure, but what stops them from installing a "backup battery" that can't be removed short of de-soldering connections?
  • Re:Class division (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Cosmic AC ( 1094985 ) on Sunday January 27, 2008 @02:40AM (#22198546)
    But computing is pervasive. In the future, more and more things will be controlled by software, rather than by cars or doctors.
  • Re:Class division (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tsa ( 15680 ) on Sunday January 27, 2008 @04:56AM (#22198914) Homepage
    That's nothing new. It happened with cars, washing machines, and I bet horses in the olden days... People will always make use of the ignorance of others. That 'class division' always existed for all things that need maintenance by a professional.
  • Brainwashing (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 27, 2008 @05:37AM (#22199016)
    Notable in the comments on this story is what seems to be missing. Deep outrage.

    Previous generations of Americans - of all political leanings - would have been deeply offended by the idea that governments, or anyone else for that matter, had the right to snoop into a free citizen's private life unless a judge had determined probable cause, meaning it was likely the person was a criminal where the court would authorize an investigation likely to lead to that citizen losing his freedom or at least some of his property through a court trial and fine.

    However, in the last ten years or so, there has been a remarkable change, where what used to be mainstream offense at such an idea is now marginalized as the loony fringe. Television shows have been party to this brainwashing, as they feature law enforcement shows where the federal, state and even local police go into databases and almost instantly know a lot about ones personal life. We watched one the other night where they organized a search party of the locals, and ostensibly to protect the people, took names of each volunteer. Then the TV show has the police and the feds discussing the personal profiles of each volunteer... this one has debt problems, that one has sexual deviancy... none of them convicted criminals, but each forming a detailed profile of that citizen. The show ostensibly was placed in Washington State not East Germany before the wall was torn down.

    When I put computer systems into police departments in the 1980's, we were told that the software had to purge and absoletely delete all records on a person arrested if they were not charged, or found not guilty. Hopefully that is still the law. However, what we are seeing with stories like the Microsoft story is a slow process of softening up the public, of dimming public opinion so the ordinary guy in the street figures its normal for the police or corporates to snoop into the private lives of ordinary citizens. This is called a police state folks. Land of the free? Freedom means being left alone until you cross the boundary and break the law. Only in dictatorships, police states and authoritarian regimes do private citizens come under government surveilance.

    In such places, life dims.

    Reading these sorts of stories, life is dimming now, I fear.

    If you are offended by officials or corporations spying on private citizens who have done nothing wrong, you must speak up now, while they are still softening up the rest of us. If you don't think you have the power to do so, look at the open source movement.

    "The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil Constitution, are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors: they purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood, and transmitted them to us with care and diligence. It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or to be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men." Samuel Adams

    Read the last line again, folks. Then go back and re-read the Microsoft story.
  • Re:Fuzz Busters.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BlueParrot ( 965239 ) on Sunday January 27, 2008 @07:16AM (#22199292)
    So what do you do when you CANT destroy the RFID because it is necessary for the device you bought to function? E.g, when your credit card doesn't work without the rfid chip, when you are not allowed to enter the subway without an rfid enabled ticket etc... Take your money elsewhere? Say hello to cartels and monopolies that are in cahoots with the government.

    If it was as easy as just destroying the chip ( and if destroying the chip was legal ) then it wouldn't be a problem.
  • Re:Class division (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dun Malg ( 230075 ) on Sunday January 27, 2008 @12:29PM (#22200530) Homepage

    Clearly not all, but maybe we can get some evolutionary pressure to become smarter. If the average person isn't smart enough to handle day to day life, then the average person will need to become smarter.
    Unfortunately, the yardstick of "success" from an evolutionary standpoint is very simply "procreation". The bar remains exceptionally low for that, no matter what happens on the technology front. Even worse, the indications are that smarter folks have fewer children. With modern society having a distinct shortage of wild tigers roaming around eating the slow and stupid, there isn't any evolutionary pressure to become smarter. Between liability lawsuits and modern farming techniques, we've set up a petri dish where the foolish not only survive, but grow fat and multiply like crazy. No, the pressure won't be on the dense to become brighter, it'll be on the product engineers to make technology "friendlier", so even the daft can handle it.

    Salesman: This new user-friendly computer only has one button, and we press it for you before it leaves the factory.
    Dilbert: What does the button do?
    Salesman: Whoa, I'm in way over my head here. Let me give you our tech support number.
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Sunday January 27, 2008 @03:45PM (#22201728) Journal
    I can imagine that an appeal to the widespread enthusiasm for "competitive consumption" could probably be used to increase consumer acceptance of RFID in a fair number of demographics. A system that scans the tags embedded in the goods carried by nearby people and reports the provenance and approximate value of those goods would likely be a hit in some circles(and with muggers; but never you mind about that). A likely implementation of such a system would be in cell phones. RFID reader + data connection to look up IDs + screen and/or audio interface to give results to the user. I'm envisioning a variety of different brandings of the same core system. "Appearance ValueMetriX Professional Plus Premium Edition for Windows Mobile 20xx" would be positioned to appeal to marketing people, higher end gold diggers, and similar. The other end of the spectrum would be "Ping yo' Bling powered by Boost Mobile".

    Such systems would likely be very popular with the sundry "luxury" brands that are having a difficult time competing with functionally identical and vastly less expensive clones. Cloning the tags would be a fair bit harder than cloning the goods themselves(particularly in a market like this, more expensive and more capable tags would be used), and they could have all sorts of cheesy tie-ins that would be offered by nearby RFID reader devices to people wearing the right tags. The phrase "Gucci Genuine Advantage" makes me die a little on the inside; but I can totally imagine it happening. With a functionally infinite number of UUIDs available, all sorts of ambient services could be tied to wearable goods. Faster entry into trendy clubs, a flattering picture of you being validated by a celebrity appearing on video billboards when you walk past, exclusive ringtones, servile salespeople who know your name, tastes, and preferred form of flattery the moment you step through the door, and so on ad nauseum.
  • Dark Matter (Score:2, Insightful)

    by EdIII ( 1114411 ) on Sunday January 27, 2008 @09:57PM (#22204006)
    What I find so very interesting, and always have, is the "lack" of information being provided by these surveillance systems.

    What is more concerning in a secured environment? The 999 objects that you can track visually and with RFID in a given area, or the ONE object you cannot track.

    This is what has concerned me from the beginning. If all the sheeples around me are not fighting back and forcefully taking their privacy back, then I will certainly show up like a big red target on the security software that is running.

    These software/hardware packages are becoming amazingly sophisticated to the point they analyze behavior of people and objects in the room. AI in the future is not some geeky pie-in-the-sky concept here. Genetic Algorithms, or step evolutionary algorithms are already here and incredibly impressive. Forget fuzzy logic and heuristics, these programs embody all of those methods and constantly improve.

    The 100th gen of a Backgammon AI could barely beat a mentally challenged kid moving the pieces randomly. The Billionth Gen regularly defeated world champions. It's been awhile since we heard about the Chess AI machines, but the last I heard it was barely a draw.

    So what happens in the future when you represent a big black hole of information walking around? What does that look like on a security interface?

    Some rather sophisticated people talk about defeating/hacking/programming/deactivating RFID units around them, some in an automated fashion. Heh Heh.

    So what if there was a literal application of that term, Black Hole? Can you imagine what the picture would like if there was a void in the security environment, that was interacting with other objects, AND deactivating/modifying other RFID like devices?

    Different way to think about it, since maybe RFID is more of a threat to those that would attack it, then accept it.

"The pathology is to want control, not that you ever get it, because of course you never do." -- Gregory Bateson