Government // Enterprise Architecture
Commentary
7/26/2010
05:04 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
Commentary
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Global CIO: Wal-Mart Reignites RFID Hysteria

Wal-Mart's big-time RFID expansion down to individual items has the privacy kooks on red alert--any danger behind their paranoia?

I'll give the tin-foil-hat crowd this much: what they lack in real-world logic and common sense, they surely make up for in alarmist paranoia and anti-business fantasies.

In particular, the RFID-haters branch of the tin-hat brigade is all stirred up by the recent news that Wal-Mart is expanding its use of RFID technology to create better experiences for shoppers, more revenue and profits for Wal-Mart and its suppliers, greater returns on investments for Wal-Mart shareholders, and greater success for entrepreneurs in the RFID industry.

In a bold business-technology initiative that will continue Wal-Mart's efforts to please its customers by giving them better choices, better availability, and better prices, the world's largest retailer is expanding its use of RFID tags from the pallet level down to the individual-product level. This is a huge achievement in the global consumer-packaged goods and retailing industries, and will also have spillover impact in logistics, merchandising, marketing, finance, and other related fields.

And it's my hope that Wal-Mart will give these doomsday forecasters all the attention and credibility and time they deserve, which is precisely no time at all.

Now, while it's true that these so-called "privacy activists" stuff their fantasies with hot-flash buzzwords like surveillance and privacy, their basic objections to this highly promising technology are so flimsy and so far-fetched that I can only wonder what in the wide wide world of neuroses they're actually hoping to save the rest of us from.

Best as I can tell, here's the apocalypse the "activists" are all fussed up about: if you buy something that includes an RFID tag and then at home discard the RFID tag along with all the other packaging, then bad guys could go through your trash and reanimate those tags and—please sit down and take a deep breath—find out what you've purchased.

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I know, I know, this is scary stuff, and I shouldn't treat it lightly. And yes, it's true that some people might figure that any bad guy willing to look through your trash to learn what you've recently bought would probably look first for a box or the packaging or some other printed material.

Well, for anybody who's so simple-minded as to think that, these busy-bodies are here to tell you that it's not the bad guys that are the problem, but rather the RFID technology that's the problem, and that's why it has to be banned or regulated—especially after big, bad Wal-Mart expands its use of RFID to create greater levels of customer value and business value.

Here's the fairy tal— er, story, as reported in the Wall Street Journal:

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