Anne Bruce
Retailer and manufacturer uptake of radio frequency identification technology is likely to be held up while hardware evolves and privacy issues are resolved.
Worldwide academic and industry institution the Auto-ID centre plans to release global standards for the next generation traceability barcodes in September.
But some experts gathered in Cambridge's Auto-ID Centre for a conference said that even if standards were set, the hardware was unlikely to be commercially viable in the foreseeable future.
RFID tags are being tested by Tesco on "smart shelves" in its Cambridge store, attached to Gillette razor blades in a trial which started in January. Colin Peacock, Gillette's director of global customer development on shelf availability, said: "We think this is the technology of the future, tackling on-shelf availability and reducing stock loss." But Adrian Beck of the University of Leicester said the Tesco trial had shown tags currently only had a two to three inch reading range and had to be kept away from metal as it interfered with the radio signals. And readers cost £100 each.
Beck added that if chips were destroyed at point of sale, stores would have a problem when stock was refunded back into the supply chain. If not, privacy was problematic, with a US civil liberties group working with an unidentified university on draft legislation to control the technology.
Speaking before the session, Katherine Albrecht founder of US based CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering) said RFID could lead to a Big Brother society. She said: "This is invasive technology, robbing consumers of their privacy. It has fallen under the radars of legislators."
Albrecht said she was worried the tags could track transactions and monitor and capture information on customer spend and lifestyle. Prices could then be altered exploitatively.
Auto-ID plans to release a policy document and results of its worldwide consumer research to counteract privacy concerns. Associate director, Europe, Helen Duce admitted afterwards there had been negative feedback from consumer research. "This is a business-to-business supply chain application, like a barcode. We have always built in safeguards."

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