- HOUSTON -- Could a wave of
the future wash away your personal privacy? New technology is raising old
fears and you need to know how you might be, in essence, tracked for years.
- Wouldn't it be nice if the next time you went grocery
shopping you didn't have to wait in the checkout line?
- "So I take it off the shelf, I put it in the cart,"
explains University of Houston professor, Dennis Adams. "And I walk
- How? Everything would just be scanned all at once and
- Say goodbye to the bar code and hello to Radio Frequency
Identification, RFID for short.
- RFID consists of tiny chips that in a way can talk. It's
a means of information exchange between two devices by using radio waves.
You may have already used it yourself to get into the office or to get
through the E-Z tag lanes on the toll road.
- Businesses see it as a major money saver. "In a
typical medium-size refinery they would find savings of about $1.5 million
to $2 million per year," says Don Frieden with SAT Corporation.
- Houston-based SAT Corporation uses it to streamline inspections
of petro-chemical equipment. RFID tags are read by a handheld computer,
which sends inspection data to a central network all in real time.
- It's much different than in the past. "They would
use just a clipboard and piece of paper," says Frieden.
- The Port of Houston tracks containers with RFID to spot
contraband and curb terrorism. And airlines are outfitting luggage tags
to minimize lost baggage.
- From the Michelin Man putting chips in his tires to marathon
runners wearing RFID-labeled shoelaces, the possibilities are endless.
- Right now Frito Lay is working on embedding an RF chip
into the paint of a bag of chips with the metallic packing serving as a
huge antenna. And that can store your personal information long after the
bag is thrown away.
- With all the wizardry comes a warning. "The scary
part of the use of that tag is it exists after we buy the product,"
- So the sweater you buy at the store to the shoes you
walk out with to the car you drive away could all be traced specifically
to you just with that tiny chip inside.
- "I think potentially," says Adams. "This
could be a Big Brother problem."
- Orwellian concerns over privacy may no longer be just
Hollywood hype. The future may soon be staring us in the face.
- Dennis Adams covers the social impact issues with graduate
students at the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business.
- "The more information they find out about me, the
more Spam, the more e-mail, the more direct marketing I'm going to get,"
says one UH student. "It's just going to be a big irritant."
- "Anything can be tapped into," adds another
student. "Anyone can be listening in."
- "You know, I won't have any privacy," says
- It's not a question of if, but when the technology will
pervade our everyday lives. "If we abandon our rights and don't voice
our concerns someone is going to use this information either for us or
against us," says Adams.
- When you consider companies, such as VeriChip, are already
implanting chips into people, for example to track a person's medical history,
the ethical concerns, many say, can't afford to be ignored.
- Privacy concerns have prompted some companies to slow
down development. Wal-Mart for example chose not to tryout RFID on store
shelves for now -- only in its warehouses to manage inventory.