Companies trying to influence public opinion once shelled out big bucks for full-page advertisements in major newspapers, but today they may be as likely to spend those dollars on sponsored links on Google.
One such case in point is RFID Ltd., a pro-RFID industry firm that is paying Google an undisclosed sum to publish several papers on the search engine that paint an upbeat picture of all-things having to do with RFID technology. More specifically, the papers are intended to refute allegations detailed in a recently released book called "Spychips," which paints a less than friendly view of how radio frequency identification technology is affecting consumer privacy. The authors -- Katherine Albrecht, founder of the privacy advocacy group Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering (CASPIAN), and consumer privacy advocate Liz McIntyre -- co-authored the book released on Oct. 4.
"This is terrifying stuff. Companies have laid out some outlandish plans for RFID technology and no one knows about them, so when you're sitting on information you feel a responsibility to tell people," Albrecht said.
"Spychips" tries to explain RFID technology -- its history and future -- along with strategies by businesses and government to imbed the technology in everything from postage stamps to shoes to people, and spy on Americans without knowledge or consent. It also urgently encourages consumers to take action to protect their privacy and civil liberties.
Obviously, RFID Ltd., which decribes itself on its web site as a system integrator and RFID consulting business, holds a dramatically different opinion than that of the book authors. Indeed, RFID Ltd. is prepared to financially invest "as much as it takes" to publish several papers on RFID technology, said Nicholas Chavez, president at RFID Ltd. He views the group's escalating their opinion campaign on Google as representing "the evolution of information warfare."
"There are people that disagree on a fundamental level to what these authors have written," he said.
The Google advertising campaign is part of RFID Ltd.'s drive to inform consumers, media and investors about what Chavez call the truth of ultra high frequency RFID technology. There's no change for the documents that intended to explain the effects of RFID technology on consumer privacy. The document is scheduled for release on Friday. Web surfers will find it by typing into the search bar one of several keywords such as "RFID investing," "RFID," "RFID Spychips," and "Spychips," each word or phrase costs something different and is associated with a different advertising campaign that could last for weeks.
The RFID market is growing. Research firm Frost & Sullivan estimates RFID technology revenue will exceed $7 billion by 2008. While there is some debate, a generally accepted definition of RFID technologies can be found in TechEncyclopedia, which defines RFID as "a wireless data collection technology that uses electronic tags for storing data. Like bar codes, they are used to identify items. Unlike bar codes, which must be brought close to the scanner for reading, RFID tags are read when they are within the proximity of a transmitted radio signal."
Google was Chavez's obvious choice for the counter attack. RFID Ltd. needed to go to the source where people acquire information about RFID to provide them with "accurate and credible information that comes from engineers." Google reaches more than 80 percent of the Internet Web users that search for information on RFID, he said.
Since Google isn't an actual portal where color ads are posted, advertisers must purchase advertising as a sponsor whose name and link appear on the right side of a Web page after a keyword is searched on. The sponsored links are priced per click through, about 100,000 would cost about $40,000, Chavez said.
Customers buying the advertising set their own price by limiting the number of times you can click-through to the content. Once that limit is reached the link disappears, Chavez said. "You can spend X number of dollars daily and it can get into the millions of dollars monthly," he said. "We are not entirely sure how much this will cost us but we're prepared to do what it takes."