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Majority Of European Consumers Worry RFID Threatens Their Privacy, Survey Says

Consumers surveyed see privacy-protection laws as way to make them feel more comfortable with buying RFID-enabled merchandise.

More than half of 2,000 European consumers surveyed in a recent Capgemini study say they had privacy worries about radio-frequency identification tags.

European consumers participating in the study by the business and IT consulting firm consider legislation on privacy protection as the key that would make them more likely buy RFID-enabled products. Other factors survey respondents considered crucial: the ability to disable RFID tags at the store after purchase, a customer opt-in/opt-out choice regarding information collected via the tags, and clear labels that state the tag is RFID-enabled.

Merchants increasingly use RFID technology to monitor stock on store shelves and in distribution centers. Still, awareness about RFID tags among European consumers remains low; about 18% of the respondents have heard about the technology. Those familiar with the technology expressed concern the cost for products with RFID-enabled tags would rise to cover the price of the tags. Indeed, 39% say they expect RFID will raise the cost of goods, 11% believe it would lower the cost, and one quarter say it would have no impact on cost.

What do these European consumers see as the benefits of RFID? Survey respondents say the tags will improve anti-theft measures, lead to faster recovery of stolen items, better security for prescription drugs, safer foods, faster and more reliable recall notices, quicker checkout, and reduced counterfeiting.

Ironically, the study reveals that making sure the product consumers want is on the shelf was one of the least important benefits from RFID, along with increased access to more products and in-aisle comparisons. Reducing the number of out-of-stock items has been a major reason retailers have touted their decision to deploy RFID in their supply chains.

Another main concern by survey respondents is that RFID could be used to monitor them once they've left the store with their purchases. Nearly three-quarters of British survey takers expressed concern that consumer data could be shared and used by third parties. As a comparison, 59% of all Europeans surveyed stated those concerns. Similarly, 73% of British consumers worried they could be targeted with more direct marketing versus 52% in Europe overall.

Only 8% of the European consumers surveyed express a negative perception of the RFID. Thirty-seven percent who knew about RFID say a main source for information about the technology came from newspapers and magazines; 29% say they learned about the technology from the Internet.

Most consumers who participated in the survey expressed an interest in learning more about RFID. Capgemini says the level of concern from respondents suggests that companies take responsibility for educating their customers by addressing privacy, environmental, health, and tracking issues.

The RFID study was conducted in November using the Internet. More than 2,000 consumers in Britain, France, Germany, and the Netherlands participated. Capgemini worked with ORC International, a London global-research operating unit of Opinion Research Corp., to field the survey.

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