A creepy new spying technology called Radio Frequency Identification – known by its abbreviation RFID — is starting to show up on products you buy at stores like Walmart, and it could be used to track your every move.
What is RFID?
RFID is a tracking technology. It uses tiny microchips hooked up to miniature antennas to track items from a distance. This chip and antenna combination is called an RFID tag. You can see a typical RFID tag here on the right. Each tag contains an ID number that uniquely identifies the item to which it is attached. It’s like a Social Security number for things.
RFID tags are tracked by RFID reading devices. These RFID readers gather information from the RFID tags via radio waves, similar to the radio waves that allow you to listen to your favorite FM radio station. RFID radio waves, like FM radio waves, travel invisibly through solid objects like purses, backpacks, wallets and shopping bags.
How do RFID systems keep track of items?
RFID readers collect and process information from matching RFID tags whenever they’re in reading range. Since each RFID tag contains a unique ID number and is associated with a specific item, it’s possible to link items to specific customers at checkout. This makes it possible to track them going forward. There are some preliminary plans to watch the tags all the time, long after purchase, anywhere in the world, through a coming infrastructure known as the “Internet of Things.”
RFID tags are easy to hide. They can be sandwiched in price labels, hidden within the soles of shoes, printed on boxes, and even woven right into fabric and clothing labels. Right now you might have an RFID tag in a store loyalty card or in a credit card and not know it!
Most RFID tags get their power from the reader device, so they don’t need batteries. With no parts to wear out, they can beam tracking information to RFID readers indefinitely. And RFID readers themselves can be hidden. We’ve seen plans to embed them in floors, doorways, ceiling tiles and store shelves. Retail logistics departments justify investing in RFID because it lets them locate store inventory at all times and ensure the shelves stay stocked. Marketing departments, on the other hand, love the thought of using RFID to gather intimate data on customers by tracking their movements and secretly scanning the contents of their pockets, purses or backpacks. Continue reading