RFID Taking the Mickey?

Today’s Independent reports on the latest front in retail convenience and privacy, with Disney’s plans to utilise RFID technology. 5436253998_eefbd95f25_b

“The latest kerfuffle has resulted from Disney’s plan to introduce an RFID wristband – “the MagicBand” – at its parks during 2013. It would function as a room key, a parking ticket, a pass for certain rides, a payment system and, if you opted in, a personal ID that would, say, allow Disney characters to greet you or your children by name. The online reaction to this plan ranges from “awesome” to “terrifying”.

Disney says that it’s trying to “appeal to customers more efficiently” in a way that’s “transformational” to its business; critics say that it enables the company to “monitor, track and analyse your every activity”. When the plans became public, Congressman Ed Markey complained to Disney about the “surreptitious use of a child’s information”, a claim that was deftly rubbished by the company – but the move still furrows the brows of privacy campaigners, including Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch.”

RFID isn’t a particularly new technology, but as it’s sophistication increases and new demands emerge for data on what consumers are doing off-line to keep up with online tracking, the reality is that it offers yet another way to track us. Particularly in environments designed for children, the broader issue about how we educate young people about privacy is a concern when they are told to accept as normal a degree of tracking in everyday environments.

Yes, it does also offer new convenience for customers so as ever, the critical issue is how companies detail the systems – and if consumers have a real choice between using the technology or not. Consumers need to be aware of what data is being collected, how it is linked to other data and how it will be used. Critically, consumers also need to know if third parties will be using the data and if so, who.

Big Brother Watch joined a campaign in the US against the use of RFID in schools and we are monitoring to see how the technology – and other kinds of physical tracking – are deployed in the UK.