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RFID& NFC: How Privacy and Security Could be Affected

By: Andrew Carr - Updated: 6 Jan 2013 | comments*Discuss
Rfid Nfc Rfid Mobile Phones Tracking

We don't want to be alarmist, but in this age of CCTV cameras and high profile security checks at airports, it is perfectly feasible that you and I may be being monitored by computers. If not now, then maybe we will be in the future!

How? You may ask. Well there is a small piece of technology, which has been around for some time; the 50's to be precise, but is only now causing debate as it comes into wider use between supporters and groups concerned with our personal privacy and security.

Will We Benefit?

Yes, it will benefit mankind, but it can also be used to spy on us, with regard to tracking everything we do. In fact, these devices can be used to track anything, such as objects, people and even our shopping habits. So what is it?

The Latest In “Contactless” Wireless Technology, RFID And NFC

Well, actually there are two aspects to it. The technologies, respectively are named Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and Near Field Communication (NFC).

Tags! Tags! Tags!

Both technologies make use of small computer chips called "tags". These are so tiny they can be placed anywhere and are unobtrusive, hence they are also easy to hide! RFID and NFC tags use very similar technology. The difference is that the NFC tags are mainly used in mobile phones. NFC tags are usually more sophisticated than RFID as they also generate their own power and have their own internal programming, unlike RFID tags which are more passive.

The tags (both RFID and NFC) can hold small units of data such as an item number or other information. However, they can hold any kind of data, such as your name, address and age. This is where the technology can get personal, and cause concern amongst people, as we don't always know what has been stored about us on the tags.

You would normally find RFID tags embedded in goods you would buy from a shop like clothes or shoes. They are also used to track items in a few large organisations currently adopting the technology, such as the US military.

Some of the Benefits

So what are the benefits? Well RFID tags are excellent for business, as a tracking mechanism for goods and documents, as they are transported across various parts of the organisation. They can also be used to store electronic signatures so the pen and paper could be obsolete. Obviously however, this also raises security concerns.

NFC enabled mobile phones may offer the best advantages at the moment. These are currently in the process of being “rolled out” by the mobile phone companies. Let us demonstrate an example to you. You want to buy something from a clothes store. You see something you like but it is not in your size. Now normally, you would ask an assistant to check if they have the item you want in stock at your requested size. This means that not only do you have to wait for the assistant to check the warehouse or the store computer, but you are left twiddling your thumbs!

How NFC Enables Mobiles Can be Used to Save Time Shopping

The item you want is RFID enabled. This means there is a small RFID tag hidden in the label of the item. You put your phone next to the label on the item and it reads the hidden tag in the label. This brings up the web browser on your phone and indicates that the item you like does exist in the size you want, but it is not in the current location, and is in a different part of the store. You make your way to the new location and find your item. If the item had not been available in your size you could have reserved the item for later pick up or asked the web browser for alternatives. This would save so much time rather than spending time searching for your item! It may also be possible to avoid the checkout altogether, by using your mobile to pay for the items by scanning them via an external tag reader on exit from the store.

Society Will Benefit, But So Could The Spies!

NFC and RFID are already in existence and are the latest “time saving” technology techniques. However, don’t expect them to be in every shop and every corner until the security and privacy issues are resolved. As we have stated, the technology can also be used to “spy” on us and our activities. It’s all about ensuring the technology cannot be abused and regulated properly.

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