The uses of radio-frequency identification technology within the business community are multiplying as the tags become smaller, simpler, and less costly to incorporate into products. However, there are still pros and cons to utilizing RFID technology.
How RFID Is Being Used
Many small businesses and major corporations already use RFID tags. MasterCard has implemented a tag into its debit and credit cards called PayPass, which allows customers to simply tap the PayPass logo against a receiver to instantly purchase goods without using a PIN number or supplying any other information. Another use of RFID technology is in tracking and identifying vehicles or cargo without drivers having to physically stop and show identification. Take a highway toll road for instance — drivers with an RFID tag on their dashboard can pass through scanners without stopping and paying a toll, thus alleviating unnecessary traffic. The information on the make and model of car as well as information about the driver is transmitted to a data center for processing. A bill is then sent to the customer at the end of the month.
Making Business More Efficient With RFID
One of the best reasons for businesses to support and utilize RFID tags is that they make it easy to effectively manage products, track their whereabouts, and know what products are being sold in real time.
Companies have even begun using RFID tags with mobile computing and Web technologies to effectively identify and manage company assets. For instance, a business with a large sales force has the ability to integrate RFID readers into employee laptops or badges. It can then use Web-based management tools to keep up-to-date information that tracks an employee’s whereabouts, provides an employee’s status in a current location, and gives proof that the employee is who they say they are.
Also, companies that ship a high volume of products and carry large inventories across the country can now get better and more current tracking records and keep extremely accurate records of products as opposed to scanning a UPC barcode, for instance. With RFID, companies can monitor products using details like their place of origin; their destination followed along transit; and the number of commodities being carried, delivered, and sold. Businesses are able to reduce labor costs by eliminating maintenance and slower inventory management systems.
Why RFID Poses Threats
Although RFID has a lot of positive uses, many see it as a way for criminals to capitalize on and exploit the technology’s weaknesses. For example, because RFID tags transmit signals through radio waves, it’s possible for someone with the right equipment to gather private information from a distance. Third-party manufacturers have begun creating ways to combat this problem by making specialized products out of aluminum that shield consumers’ personal information from potential attacks. Some say that just because a card or other information is guarded does not fully protect it — it only makes it more difficult to obtain.
Other instances may occur when a consumer loses a credit card or identification badge. Many RFID receivers in consumer markets are left unmanned and therefore are easily exploited by criminals who don’t have to know any information about the person they are exploiting.
There’s also a possibility that cargo and shipments could fall into the wrong hands. If someone had the right equipment, they could scan an envelope without even opening it. If they like what’s inside, it’s theirs.
Finally, RFID has received scrutiny by many advocacy groups claiming that products outfitted with RFID tags are “spychips.” These groups say that because the tags could be read from a distance, the consumer is vulnerable and may be giving up personal data without their consent.