BT: Don't worry about 'RFID Luddites'

The 'one man and his dog' organisations that are opposed to RFID are not worth worrying about, according to BT

BT has claimed that companies interested in deploying RFID shouldn't be put off by protests, as there are always people who resist new technology.

Speaking at the first day of the RFID Futures conference in London, Ian Neild, disruptive futurist at BT Research Labs, said that the anti-RFID lobby wasn't anything to worry about and wouldn't impact the rollout of the technology in the long-term.

"I don't think people are that bothered about it. I think it's a small minority of people using the power of the Internet to make a lot of noise which the press like," he said. "I am not worried what these people do — we have always had Luddites," Neild said.

BT has met with some anti-RFID organisations to discuss privacy concerns, according to Neild. One solution offered by the telco was that some items would be available without RFID tags in the future but consumers would have to pay extra for such goods.

"What BT did was get some of the anti-privacy companies together — I say companies but it's more like one man and his dog. These people will be able to buy non-tagged gear but it will cost a lot more," he said. You won't lose that much money from those people."

But BT may be underestimating the passion and resourcefulness of RFID's opponents, such as Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering (Caspian). Last month, Caspian organised a demonstration outside a Wal-Mart store in Dallas, attended by around 75 people, to protest about the retailer's of what it calls 'spychips'.

"We discovered that Wal-Mart's partners — companies like NCR, IBM, Sensormatic, and Procter & Gamble — have developed extensive plans to monitor and track people and exploit them commercially through RFID tags in the things they buy," claimed Katherine Albrecht, founder of Caspian.

"These companies are working with Wal-Mart to place RFID tags into all consumer products. This will make objects — and the people wearing and carrying them — remotely trackable. We have rock-solid evidence that they are already devising ways to exploit that potential," Albrecht added.

Caspian has also called for a worldwide boycott of Tesco stores due to concerns over the retailer's increasing use of RFID.

But Neild argues that the popularity of Oyster technology on the London Underground shows that people don't mind having their movements tracked. He added that store loyalty cards also held lots of information on shoppers but were accepted. "Loyalty card lets them see what I have bought — so why do I care if they tag my chicken?" he said.

BT has a special business unit focused on RFID implementations — BT Auto-ID Services — which provides a suite of managed RFID services that can be integrated with customers' existing ERP and warehouse management software.

BT Auto-ID Services chief executive Ross Hall likened the infrastructure around RFID to the telephone network, with BT in the middle acting as central hub or switch — feeding in data from tags and dishing out information to a company's internal systems.