RFID

RFID stands for either Radio Frequency Identification or less commonly Radio Frequency Identification Device, though why have the ‘D’ on the end unless it was going to stand for something seems slightly pointless.

RFID tags are very versatile and can be incorporated into objects, devices, animals or people and come in two basic varieties; passive tags that require no power and react when interacted with, or active tags that require power and are active most, if not all the time.

A couple of years ago, there was an advert on television for a small IT start-up called IBM, or something similar, where a guy wanders into a convenience store, much like the Quicky-Mart from the Simpson’s, wearing a suspiciously long overcoat into the pockets of which he starts stuffing a range of goods.

As he leaves the security guard turns to him and says: ‘You forgot your receipt, sir”. The implication here is that all the goods and his credit card were tagged, so that just by leaving the store he was checking out.

I don’t know about you but I’m already worried about the amount of radio waves currently zipping through the ether, whether it be TV, radio, mobile phones or wireless networks. To think that my box of sugar puffs and my Egg card could also be broadcasting away makes me wonder if one night I’ll just end up being accidentally microwaved.

RFID is one of the pernicious technologies that seem to be creeping into everyday life. It first entered my consciousness through nature programmes, where it seemed like a humane way of tracking wild animals without having to drive after them all the time.

I then saw that it was being used for toll collection, and I began to wonder what next. Will my cereal boxes, bank cards and even table lamps (RFID’d against theft,) all be blasting their simple messages into the atmosphere?

Will I never again have an excuse for not being able to find my car keys? These things are already well within the realms of possibility, though one does wonder about the environmental impact of all these tiny devices out there.

Also, could this technology have a dark side? Will RFID tags invade our privacy and be used by unscrupulous retailers as a form of illicit consumer tracking?

Like many technologies RFID is itself neutral: it’s up to us the people to decide how it’s deployed.