Can the European Union protect consumer privacy with a new RFID logo?
Although radio-frequency identification (RFID) has been around for many years, its use has not been properly regulated until now. Regulation did not seem necessary because, until a few years ago, the proximity needed between devices and the limited use — confined to basic tagging and security applications — did not pose any privacy concerns.
But the explosion of near-field communication (NFC) devices and the Internet of Things has opened up new applications for RFID, and it is starting to create serious implications.
The European Union's
RFID logo will help
consumers avoid becoming
walking marketing pawns.
Now the European Union is taking steps to ensure that RFID technologies are used properly, in line with the EU Privacy Directive, and help boost the use of smartcards and smart tags without posing a threat to people’s privacy.
For example RFID is the most used technology for automated toll booths, and enables drivers to pay for their toll charges without stopping. So far this is a good application of this technology and millions of people use it every day without thinking about it. But those tags can be read at a distance, and some people could use them to track the location of your car, how many times you shop at your nearest Walmart, or the times you park at certain address.
It is easy, and cheap, for anyone to start using RFID tags for any application, and there is very little control of its deployment. There are towns using smart tags to control how people recycle their rubbish, and manufacturers placing tracking tags inside shoes. One of the biggest fears is that you can end up as a walking marketing pawn. Marketers could, theoretically, read all the smart tags in your clothing and determine what brand, model and size are the shoes you wear and match it with the type of phone you use.
The EU has created a standard RFID sign that should be displayed and present in every product or service using smart tags or NFC. Also consumers should be able to remove the RFID device from the products purchased or request to be disabled immediately after purchase. What the EU wants is that consumers are aware of the presence of those smart tags and their rights to protect their privacy.
“People using electronic travel passes, or buying clothes and supermarket items with RFID tags in the label, will know that smart chips are present thanks to the RFID sign” says the EU Press release. Until now many businesses have been using RFID smart tags for many applications without user’s knowledge.
Companies or public authorities using smart chips should give consumers clear and simple information so that they understand if their personal data will be used, the type of collected data (such as name, address or date of birth, for example when registering for a travel subscription card) and for what purpose.
European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes said: "Smart tags and systems are part of everyday life now, they simplify systems and boost our economy. But it is important to have standards in place which ensure those benefits do not come at a cost to data protection and security of personal data".
The EU wants customers to know their right to disable or remove any RFID device present in any product they purchase. Manufacturers are required to inform customers of the presence of the RFID device and how to remove it, without damaging or disabling the product purchased.
RFID designers, manufacturers and marketers need to understand these new rules and adjust their implementations of the technology to comply with the EU requirements.