With plummeting prices, increased capabilities, and widespread adoption, RFID is quickly living up to its hype as the next major disruptive technology. Unfortunately, the RFID community is taking an ostrich approach to one of the most serious social issues presented by RFID, and when RFID and pharmaceuticals start to mix (and they already are), the gravity of the issue multiplies.
Im talking about privacy, of course. In the consumer packaged goods (CPG) world, RFID has made deep inroads, and issues around privacy are no longer theoretical. In a country full of surveillance cameras, shopper loyalty cards, phone taps, credit cards, and facial recognition software, maybe we dont really have any privacy. RFID is only one more potential way of tracking people. Privacy advocates, one could claim, are merely using RFID as the latest platform to stage an age-old debate.
But the RFID industry is losing a golden opportunity, and exposing itself to ethical dilemmas and liability that are avoidable. Its one thing that someone could find out how much I paid for a pair of shoes. Its an entirely different thing if my employer learns that Im taking medication for a rare heart disease. Thats why RFID in pharma is profoundly different than RFID in CPG.
What if privacy could be incorporated into RFID-enabled products after sale? That way the consumer, and only the consumer, could view data stored on RFID tags. I, for one, would love to explore what kind of world we could create with if literally everything I owned could be immediately and automatically identified, located, and tracked but only by me.
Unfortunately, industry is not taking this issue seriously at all. Typically, companies are struggling to survive, post profits for the quarter, and define their market niche, and they tend to leave the long-term social planning to someone else. Who is that someone else? Technology advocates seem to dismiss any privacy concerns as paranoia and ignorance. Worse, one well-known research organization had internal documentation leaked that described their strategy to address privacy concerns: Annihilate the opposition.
Wisdom would indicate that if the industry did address the privacy issue, it would create new markets and accelerate the ubiquitous adoption of RFID. RFID can do so much more than help protect against counterfeiting and tracking pedigree. It is a bridge between the physical world and the virtual information world, and could change the way that people interact with physical objects in the same way that the Internet changed the way we interact with computers. The RFID industry has an enormous value proposition to society if it can protect peoples privacy.
Who is going to show leadership?