IT Confidential: Unfortunately, Big Brother Is Expensive

'The vast majority of systems in vehicles are not even used.'

John Soat, Contributor

July 11, 2003

3 Min Read

Big Brother Is Too Expensive, Part 1: An organization called Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering last week claimed to have discovered confidential documents that had been "accidentally" posted on the Web site of the Auto-ID Center, a consortium developing the standards and technology around radio-frequency identification tags. The Auto-ID Center is affiliated with MIT and several other universities, and its development of RFID technology is sponsored by some of the largest retailers in the world. The organization claims the documents, which appear to have been developed by the PR firm Fleishman-Hillard, are briefing notes for dealing with the privacy issues created by RFID technology. For example, the documents detail a survey conducted among consumers, in which 78% reacted negatively to the idea of RFID technology, and some used the term "Big Brother" in discussing it. Ironically, last week saw Wal-Mart cancel an RFID test with Gillette, and tony clothier Benetton Group recently put on hold a proposal for widespread use of the technology (see story, "Wal-Mart Shelves RFID Experiment"). While it's possible, likely even, that privacy concerns played a role in both companies' RFID strategies, most observers feel those developments show the technology is simply too expensive for widespread use at the consumer-product level both companies were exploring.

Big Brother Is Too Expensive, Part 2: Another technology that has been tarred with the broad brush of privacy concerns is telematics, such as geopositioning systems and auto-navigation systems. Privacy advocates decry the potential for abuse in tracking individuals' whereabouts, while auto manufacturers tout the safety and convenience of digital maps or instant help-desk support. However, like RFID, telematics has suffered low adoption rates mainly due to the high cost involved. Venture Development, a research firm, recently published a market report revising down figures for the adoption of telematics technology. It estimates the market for auto-telematics was $655 million last year, and will grow to only $1.7 billion by 2006, "representing a large decrease from previous estimates of this market," the company said in a statement.

Two companies last week announced their first-ever CIO appointments. Consumer portal Yahoo tapped Lars Rabbe as its CIO. Rabbe, most recently senior VP and CIO of Redback Networks, a telecom systems developer, will report to chief technology officer Farzad Nazem. Troubled manufacturer Tyco tapped Dana Deasey as its senior VP and CIO. Deasey was VP and CIO of the Americas for Siemens.

Spam-filtering vendor FrontBridge Technologies last week unveiled a list compiled by its spam analysts over the last six months of the 10 most popular subject-line come-ons used by spammers : (1) RE: Information you asked for; (2) hey; (3) Check this out!; (4) Is this your email?; (5) Please resend the email; (6) RE: Your order; (7) Past due account; (8) Please verify your information; (9) Version update; (10) RE: 4th of July.

Two thoughts: (1) I shamefacedly admit to being suckered by one or more of those; (2) the list shows a singular lack of imagination, especially compared to virus promulgators (remember Naked Wife?). Got any better come-ons, or an industry tip, send them to [email protected] or phone 516-562-5326. If you want to talk about Big Brother, CIO jobs, or spam, meet me at's Listening Post:

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