Consumers get open source RFID reader

Care of French developer
Written by Christophe Guillemin, Contributor

Care of French developer

Responding to concerns about RFID tracking tags in consumer goods, a French developer has put the finishing touches to software that will enable users to read and modify the chips. The controversial radio tags, set to become the bar codes of the future for everyday purchases, will now be able to be managed by a non-proprietary software alternative. French developer Loïc Dachary has produced the software that allows users to read the electronic labels under a GPL open source licence. The program can be used, studied, modified and redistributed freely by users. "The existence of open source software offers an element of independence and an alternative to proprietary software and the dependence it causes," the program's author said. Dachary is a software developer at the department of research into man-machine interfaces at the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control. He is already known in the open source software arena, being a mainstay of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) in France. The radio tags, based on RFID technology, are worrying civil liberties campaigners due to their surveillance potential. They see RFID being used as a way to track the spending habits of consumers by monitoring how products are moved around shops. At the heart of the open source initiative is a question of ethics, said Dachary. "There wasn't one particular event that made us react. We were more piqued by the way the technology could be used in a non-neutral way. Everyone who chooses to use a certain technology should be careful to determine who controls that technology and what degree of dependence or independence it provides." Specifically, Dachary's program detects when the electronic labels enter and leave a radio surveillance area – a range of 1.5 metres. It can also read and alter the information contained on RFID chips, which can contain up to 8K of data. The program is available on open source according to the principles of the GPL licence. It remains to be seen if the corporates, particularly those at the Auto-ID centre (the chief promoters of RFID), will opt for the open source solution rather than a proprietary system. For the moment "we've informed the key players in the sector about the software's existence and the terms of its distribution" said Dachary but certain companies may still want to be able to monopolise the program. Christophe Guillemin writes for ZDNet France.
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