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Sun, Motorola Want Radio Tags In All Consumer Goods 269

NortonDC writes: "Now we know why Sun's Scott McNealy tells people to 'Get over it,' namely that his company is in the forefront of an effort to assault any hope of buying and using anything with privacy. This article from an MIT publication documents the collaborative effort by Sun, Motorola and others to tag all consumer items with transmitting radio tags that uniquely identify each individual item with a 96-bit ID, for less than a penny each." In fairness, there are a lot of fine and legitimate uses that I would have no problem seeing these used for, but the possibilities for tracking you closer than you'd like are obvious.
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Sun, Motorola Want Radio Tags In All Consumer Goods

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  • Then how would it count how many were bought? Sure, ot could measure signal strength, but I presume that this would be affected by position too. Hard to distinguish two cartons far away from the sensor from a single one closeby.

    Moreover, there's the issue of not billing you again at your next visit to the store for items that are already payed for (clothes you wear, that half empty pack of tissues in your pocket, ...).

    These issues do not occur with UPC codes, because those are scanned individually, rather than putting the whole shopping cart through the scanner.

  • Do you have a new car equipped with an immobilizer security setup? If so, open up the head of your key, I think you'll find a little RF ID device inside of there. Granted, nobody should be reading your car key's RF ID other than your car, but I think it would be possible. In essence, you are already tagged!!
  • Prevents smuggling, shrinkage, and subscriber theft, right(ck the EULA).

    Take a quarter sized watch battery toss on a small RF emitter circuit and a little adhesive.
    The act of firmly placing the jammer on a scanner activates the power and the jammer works for about 20 minutes. That is long enough to unload that trailer full of PentiumX chips or sneak a shelf full of warez out of the local corporate mechandising centre. And the cost? Mere pennies as compared to the cent for each package they protected.

    Of course they really want to put the scanner in your cable box at home and scan the goods you bring home. And as long as Geeks keep making the countermeasures available , Joe LameAss Grifter will be just smart enough to use them in his thefts.

    Net Gain - some Marketing /Distribution info for the Corps.

  • Right, but I *want* to burn out the tag. If the store wants to verify a return item, they are going to have to do it the old fasioned way, by having a human read off the serial number. Perhaps I didn't make myself clear: I insist that RFID tags be burned out on anything I buy. If stores won't do it for me, I will do it myself.
  • Please, no. Superman would be driven from the earth. Remember his super-sensitive hearing?
  • this isnt really anything new.. supermarkets have been after doing this kind of thing for years.. imagine it.. no more queing up stareing at the checkout girls breasts :/ instead just push yer trolley through a scanner and itll pick up all of the barcodes.. well.. this idea clearly has its pros and cons :)
  • They'll b rendered useless and unreponsive to the radar devices with a simple swipe of a pocket knife down the centre cutting one of the circuits.
  • Sooner or later, someone will find a way to query these tags at a distance, or listen at a distance as another reader closer to these tags queries them. I would assume that such attacks would be similar to the so-called "tempest" attacks we talk about being conducted against computers.

    A PBS special (I believe as part of Nova) showed a espionage expert watching a user type on a keyboard in an office complex across the street. He claimed he could have been a quarter mile away and still receive that data. This gives a potential watcher plenty of distance; they could mount such a watching device in the cable junction box on your street.

    I would assume that 96-bits of data would be sent at a reasonably slow rate for accuracy, although likely slightly faster than that of a keyboard. Given that fact, I don't see how these devices would avoid remote detection against a determined party. While we may not have to worry about big brother or big business doing this to everyone, I worry that many private investigators likely will jump at the chance. "Wonder what your spouse is doing? Wonder no more..."

    Granted, these could have some good uses as well. Combining existing at-the-door alarm systems with a database of which items were recently sold, and many thieves would just give up. But a permanent way to deactivate these tags after sale must be provided. The tag likely doesn't keep track of who has queried it.

  • Just to keep this clear, the main point here not being about Bush or Clinton, but that the over all trend of things keeps turning on the little red warning lights in the back of the skull.

    In response to your comments, there is a bit about how Prescott Bush made the family fortune. For example, there is this []:

    Interesting details on the financing of Hitler and dealings with the Nazi regime are in the book George Bush, The Unauthorized Biography (1992) by Webster Griffin Tarpey and Anton Chaikin. Published by the Executive Intelligence Review, P. O. Box 17390, Washington, DC 20041-0390. ISBN # 0-943235-05-7. 659 pages. Price $20.00.

    Quoted without omissions from pages 33 and 34: "On March 19, 1934, Prescott Bush (father to George Snr) - then director of the German Steel Trust's Union Banking Corporation -initiated an alert to the absent Averell Harriman about a problem which had developed in the Flick partnership.

    Note the connection to a major German company, not a sin in its' day, but in the larger context it presents a possible problem.

    In that context, some folks can't get out of the thinking of like Father, like son.

    That being said, there were a large number of companies that tried to play boths sides for profit. The most recent news story on this had to do with IBM, but there are plenty of others that would like to string up some of the Rockerfellers for treason, etc. (for example)

    Mind you I am generally not a conspiracy theorist. but these guys keep coming up with so many little details that it is hard to track every thing down. And of course, if certain folks were that bad, then they would be busy all of the time, doing things.

    I am starting to think that fascism wears the face of a bean counter, and is generally otherwise apolitical (ie, not democratic or republican)

    I am sure that you can bring up the infamous dead friends of Clinton list, now rather incredibly long.

    As I said, the main point here not being about Bush or Clinton, but the over all trend of things keeps turning on the little red warning lights in the back of the skull

  • Here's a nice scenario: Thief wanders down the street and decides he need a Sony DS9 VCR. Pulls out his handy radar transmitter and thinks to himself - hey look like there's a DC9 VCR at house number 3, 10 and 12b. I think I steal the VCR from 12b. Now that he has the VCR, he can tear off the radio tag to prevent anyone using a similar technique to trace it back to him.

    Guess this will probably end up being another device that provides very little benefit compared to the loss of privacy endured by consumers.
  • The privacy concerns are raised by the plans, explicitly stated in the article, to push home scanners as indispensable appliances. The intention is to allow these scanners to communicate with the manufacturers and vendors, while gathering detailed information about consumer habits and camouflaging it as convenience (see the bit about the scanner in the fridge).

    If this marketer's dream came true, then there would be some serious privacy concerns. But if you listen to anybody who says "In the future, we'll all have [insert technology here]," we were all supposed to have intelligent fridges buying stuff for us 5 years ago. Right now, my fridge just keeps stuff cold, and that's the way I likes it.

  • It's the databases behind them.

    The tags contain nothing but an id (not stricktly true but hey), they mean nothing untill linked to a backaend database, which can then be used for tracking. Unfortunately this already happens, just not with the tags. Companies are already using snipits of information about each purchase (credit card number, name & address for warenty info) to build up profiles of individuals.

    The tags won't do anything new, just make it easier for people that already track us to identify A PIECE OF EQUIPMENT. not a person.

    RFID tags are only really usefull until the item is sold (for tracking batches from production to sale), the read distance is only short (I think the current max is 3 meters) and so cannot realisticaly be read once the item has left the shop. So what ties that item to an idividual? nothing we're not already giving them. Only if a name or bank number or other peice of info which uniquly identifies the person is given over as anyone got any chance of tracking YOU.

    Simple solution - never give your name or bank details out (!?!) then no one can link the purchase to you, whether the tags are used or not.

    I don't believe there has been any suggestion of using these tags as bank cards etc.


    btw, they can do other things than just store a number, some can be reprogramable, and it is perfectly feasable to have limited processing onboard too. Perhaps to allow traffic to be incrypted?

  • An interesting question is from how far away you could query the things if you were willing to go to enough trouble. You might have to transmit quite a bit of power to wake them up from a distance, but maybe not for very long. Radar transmitters transmit megawatts for nanoseconds, often with very low energy over time. You might be able to reach into a house that way and energise all the tags. On the receive side, a directional antenna, maybe even a phased array, would help the range substantially.

    We're talking about a truck-sized unit, but law enforcement might find this useful. Just drive around and inventory everybody's stuff. Correlate with income tax info, and find everybody with more stuff than they can afford.

  • by orangesquid ( 79734 ) <orangesquid&yahoo,com> on Saturday February 17, 2001 @07:11PM (#422733) Homepage Journal
    What if I take it apart, and swap tags out with another item? Or even *remove them entirely* ohmygosh! :)
  • by AntiFreeze ( 31247 ) <antifreeze42@gmail. c o m> on Saturday February 17, 2001 @07:15PM (#422736) Homepage Journal
    I see this causing the same sort of problems that the Pentium III chip had when it came out.

    Likely, it will cause the same sort of solution: consumers will probably gain the ability to disable the tag. At least, that's what I hope will happen.

    Just keep in mind, giving products unique IDs is something which has happened all the time in the past. Intel did it. Microsoft did it. Don't be surprised. On the other hand, these companies tend to not be able to get away with these ids once the public notices. I hope the same thing happens with these tags as with the others. If not, that would be the surprise.

  • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Saturday February 17, 2001 @07:15PM (#422737) Homepage
    ...who keeps taking my pens at work.

    The Assayer [] - free-information book reviews

  • by stimpy ( 11763 ) on Saturday February 17, 2001 @07:16PM (#422739) Homepage
    babies and small children...damn things keep wandering off when I'm in the middle of a game of Quake. And does she get mad at them? Oh, no! For some strange reason she acts like it's my fault...
  • 60cm would be just fine... Remember that it's 60 cm in either direction. This would mean that any gateway less than 120CM (4 feet) across would be sufficient to read it. (The security gateways at the exits of most stores are only about 3 feet across). If you could build a 1 chip that could be read at 60CM, you could do things like read the brands of all my clothes (and the IDs on my credit cards!) as I walk into a store, and tag me as a high-end purchaser, or a penny pinching commoner.

    Then you'd know how to treat me.

  • Mitsubisi. Perhaps one of their cars. Then I'll park my car in the kitchen. They'll have a hard time trying to figure that one out.

  • Um©© hate to break it to ya, but product ID's have been used by just about every manufacturer for a long time© Called serial numbers© The difference with Intel was that it was no longer just printed on the board for human reference, but accessble by the big evil corporations and hackers behind the internet©

    The big difference is the accessability of the serial numbers. It's hard to stay in business if you frisk your customers as they enter and record the serial numbers of any items they have on them. It's easy if it's done unobtrusively by a scanner embedeed in the doorway.

  • If he was really smart, he'd make these chips run embedded linux and apache, an give 'em an IPv6 address too.
  • This headline is flamebait. Anyone who reads about this technology knows that the radio tags are so small that they can only transmit a few inches. Basically the idea is to give the ability to bar-code something without having to locate the actual tag with the code on it. No fumbling around at the cash register, trying to get the product oriented just right so the device can read the code.

    Think again! You buy a pair of pants with your credit card. They know who you are, and the unique ID of your pants. A few days later, wearing your new pants, you buy a computer and leave the store. The scanner sees that a person wearing your pants and shirt bought a computer using your credit card. It's a good chance it's you.

    Later, somebody wearing your pants, and your shirt walked through the scanner of a book store and bought book X. Several days later, someone wearing Fred's pants, and Fred's shirt, Fred's shoes, and Fred's tie walked through a scanner at the mall carrying book X that you bought. Most likely, you and Fred are friends. The more times Fred's clothes go through a scanner along with an item that has also gone through a scanner with your clothes, the more certain they are that you and Fred are friends.

    Given enough data over a long enough timeframe, marketers will have information that they rarely get today. That is, a decently accurate map of who you associate with and what your relationship to that person is, where you shop, when you shop, what you buy, how much you pay, etc., etc. All of that from a series of data points gotten when you passed within a meter or so of the anti-theft pillars that are nearly ubiquitous in retail stores.

    You will still be able to anonymize yourself by burning out all of the tags, but you may find that you can never return defective merchandise that way. You can buy enerything in cash, and never send in a registration card, but one little slipup and unknown person 12873645 who they know everything else about (or at least have damned good guesses about) becomes JediTrainer who frequents /. (They know that because you slipped up back in '05 and let an ecommerce web site have your real shipping address. Guess you should have been more careful about the web bug on page three of the order form.)

    To think that all of this is going to happen overnight is a paranoid fantasy. To think it will never happen is a fool's fantasy. Back in 1905, who would have ever imagined that a complete stranger in another state could know as much as you yourself know about your credit history?

  • No, a degaussing coil probably wouldn't work, even on an inductively coupled RFID (this story is about capacitively coupled RFIDs).
    The degaussing coil puts out a field at 50/60 Hz. RFID power supplies are designed to resonate at a higher frequency, such as 20 Khz. However, the degausser field might be so strong that it cuts through that filter. If you could send a huge DC pulse through the coil instead of a sine wave, it would be more likely to work, because a step wave contains energy across the whole spectrum. So if you can charge up a bank of capacitors and then rapidly discharged them through a coil, you can probably nuke the RFID that way.
  • They need only be unique on a single subnet. If you take a look at a sun with multiple nic's, they all have the same mac address, which is derived from the machine's hostid. Similarly, as the other poster already mentioned, almost all nic's have software reprogrammable mac addresses.
  • That is exactly what you would want to do. The primary legitimate purposes of these devices are for inventory tracking from manufacture to purchase. At that point the tag should be burned out.
    Except that, in the case of each unit having a unique ID, there's no need to burn it out. You can track EACH AND EVERY unit as it goes out and comes back in. Make sure that you're returning a unit to the same store you took it from, and make sure that it was actually purchased before they give you a refund.

    I can definitely understand why SUN would like this, because the volume of data that something like this would generate is the sort of stuff that a nice, big SUN box is designed for.

    Brother SUN, Sister Oracle.

  • The bozos that did the article did it in such a way that it renders in about 2 point font for the majority of the story in Netscape 4.6, and it doesn't increase in size with Control-]! I really do wish I could have read it.


  • That is actually a valid point. However, I don't believe you can lump it into the seach & seizure group just yet.

    I believe that Slashdot (ie: the editors) is falling more and more towards the yellow shade of journalism every month. Their news post made it sound as if, in a few years, the FBI can just drive past your house and automatically get an inventory of everything you own through radio tags. This is *so* far from fact that it's not even funny. The article specifically says that the ideal application for these tags would be for tracking retails goods. Right now, the tag reader has to be less than 1cm away from the tag in order to register anything.

    I'm not an expert, of course, but I just don't see them suddenly increasing range to 50m over the course of a few years. Don't get me wrong, I'm a privacy advocate just as much as the next slashdotter, but I think it's funny how Slashdot can post subjective news like this and then have the balls to call 2600 fans "paranoia zealots."
  • The second amendment has been null and void since 1933 at the latest. Or maybe you can go down to the hardware store and pick up a Thompson submachine gun and a crate of dynamite and a box of blasting caps with no interference where you live?

    Yours WDK -

  • Every time I read an article like this one, with
    privacy implications, I'm reminded of David Brin's
    "The Transparent Society." In particular, he
    suggested passing a law that if a company collects
    information about people, then that information
    about the top N officers of the company should be
    made publicly available. You want to know what
    I buy? Fine, tell me what you buy.

    Having said this, one cool application for these
    tags would be to find my own stuff. It'd be neat
    to be able to home in on that misplaced Beatles CD
    with a scanner, rather than look all over the
    place by hand.
  • I don't know why this hasn't caught on. It'd be really neat if someone could get some law passed that made it mandatory for all kids under the age of 18 to have radio tags under their skin for tracking purposes. You could also use them like a smart card and store credits and stuff in them for school lunches. Then if your kid wanders off or gets kidnapped, break out the tracker and just go find him. I suppose people would freak out about "privacy" and "mark of Satan" and stuff like that but I think it'd be a swell invention that would help out law enforcement all around. Problem is finding a battery that'd last 18 years I guess.
  • Call me old fashioned, a Luddite, whatever, but, if there are things that have built-in radio transmitters that could track me wherever I (or really, it) is, I wouldn't buy it or use it. (Assuming I knew it had it, of course.)

    I like my privacy. I like my anonymity. Yes, I don't have it to a degree -- I run a personal diary-type web site -- but there are certain things that I don't need broadcast.

    Back when I got hit by that drunk back in March 2000, the only reason my wife couldn't find me was because I wasn't able to answer the phone at home. Let's say I had one of these devices that would reveal my approximate location.

    what would it mean, knowing that I was still technically in Savannah, Georgia, but... how could it say where specifically? The coordinate given was not my house. It could be anywhere. What use is that?

    Even so, I don't want it. Scott McNealy may unfortunately be right, but there's a lot that we can do to protect ourselves and our privacy. I'm actively doing that.

    Haaz: Co-founder, LinuxPPC Inc., making Linux for PowerPC since 1996.
  • Yep, you're wrong. Because the U.S.A. isn't "great."

    Yours WDK -

  • Even the Amish are giving in to pressure. As I understand it, cellphones are just about acceptable as long as they're not used in the house, and not on the Sabbath. They've had (legally mandated) battery operated turn signals on their carriages for years now.
    Amish "rejection" of technology is not blindly stupid luddism; they have quite valid reasons for it.

    Their objections to (landline) telephones is quite reasonable: they cannot dig a device that distracts the attention from an actual visitor in order to give attention (talk) to someone who is too lazy to show up in person . In other words, it's impolite to cut one's in person conversation to answer the phone. I don't have a problem with that at all; personally, I just hate it having to wait for someone to finish a phone call before talking to me; if I took the trouble to go all the way to see you, it's kinda important, no? And likewise, whenever I call someone, I can perfectly well understand that he can't answer me at once; the first thing I ask is "Am I disturbing you?".

    Interestingly, the Amish didn't have deep objections to fax machines; they simply put the fax in a shed away from the house, they go check it a few times a day, when they'll be sure it won't interfere with any conversation.

    Likewise, they dig cellphones because they can be answered when one is out (litterally) in the field...

    Interestingly, the first cellphone operator who got a hint of that made a killing amongst the Amish, simply by having a contract that didh't require a credit card (another thing Amish ain't too fond of).


  • "Painting the antenna over an entire box extends the range to about 60 centimeters, but this won't help much on something as small as a can of tuna fish."

    Why not use the tin can itself as the antenna?
  • I want to tag my tools, so my toolbox will remind me that I forgot to put away my hammer. If I ignore that reminder, my database can tell me I last used the hammer in attic.
    I just hope the tags don't look like tacks.

    Naaaah, forget is, 'cause when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail...


  • These are passive devices that require an excitation signal from a reader or scanner in order to send the ID. This technology has been in use for years for the purpose of building custom devices in an automated assembly process. The device under assembly carries a passive rf tag, and when it comes to a station, a reader gets the ID, looks it up in a database, and runs a robotic program, tells the worker what to do, etc. The goal of this technology is to get the tags cheap enough so the tag is on the device, not the pallet that carries it. Information about the custom device stays with the device, for the purpose of multiple assembly plants, quality tracking, and service. Chances the engine in your car already has a similar passive tag built in.

    Is that an invasion of your privacy? These devices need to have a very limited range in order to perform thier task in an assembly environment.

    The article starts out talking about tracking theft of root beer bottles. Reading past the 1st paragraph reveals that the range of Motorola's tag is limited to slightly more than a centimeter. A&W will need to invest in a lot of rf receivers to find out who has its root beer. To say that we will be tracked using this tech is the equivalent to saying that we are already being tracked by spy satellites that read bar codes. (scans the sky for black helicopters)


  • Amish "rejection" of technology is not blindly stupid luddism; they have quite valid reasons for it.

    I certainly don't consider the Amish to be stupid, blind, or anything else. I simply note that they do, in fact, have cellphones now. I do feel that they take an extreme viewpoint on technology that is clearly different form mine. However, I respect their convictions.

    I simply note that the lifestyle altering technologies in the world today are SO pervasive that even the most steadfast (and the Amish are certainly steadfast!) are changing with the times.

    As fo their views on landlines, it only takes 2 or 3 telemarketers in a day (or any calls when I'm trying to eat after coming home late from work) to get me to consider that the Amish may be right on that one.

    But back to the original topic, the list is back down to just the homeless.

  • Then how would it count how many were bought?

    It's not that hard to design a protocol to count identical devices, which sharing one signal. Each device just keeps trying to send without a colission, with exponentially increasing delays after a failed transmission.

  • You've already for an ID tag that is unique to your body, your finger print. Police ask for your ID when they pull you over to make sure you have a license to operate a vehicle. If you do have a license and were swerving all over the road they slap you with reckless endangerment/driving as they can infer that if you got a license from the state you passed exams and are aware you're not allowed to swerve all over the road.
  • I live in a world where consumers actually have a clue. So if they are willing to buy a product that compromises their privacy for additional functionality, then they'll weigh the consequences and make a decision about whether or not the product is worth their time and loss of privacy.

    Wow! Where is this world? I want to live there too; I'm sick of Earth.


  • by phaze3000 ( 204500 ) on Saturday February 17, 2001 @10:51PM (#422805) Homepage
    It was _decentralized_ property ownership that made this country great, not centralized corperations. Centralized capitalism has the exact same problems as communism. Hell, just look at all the corperate welfare we have today. That's the great sucking sounds of centralization which killed the USSR.

    Actually, many who would describe themsleves as Communists (myself included) would say that the USSR was an example of state-run capitalism, not Communism. The potential for even greater abuse when the entity controlling everything doesn't even have to pretend it's doing anything in anyones best interest, other than the shareholders, is seriously scary.

  • by q000921 ( 235076 ) on Saturday February 17, 2001 @10:55PM (#422808)
    People say that with the limited range, this isn't going to be a problem. But the range is going to get bigger; there is no technical reason why it shouldn't. The main reason why the range is limited right now is because the scanners need to be fairly cheap for its current market. If you can spend $100000 per scanner as opposed to $1000 for a scanner, you can do a lot more. And lots of people will have an incentive to spend just that kind of money to track people.

    If you carry a set of tags that respond to RF, you can bet that they will be used within a few years for tracking your every move through a store. You'll probably get incentives to carry special ones that are linked to your identity. If you don't, some services may not be available to you, and people will track you based on the random tags that came with your clothes anyway.

    Of course, you will have the "right" not to use them, just like you can, in principle, make all your transactions in cash, not drive a car, and not have a telephone number. Well, actually, in the US, there are people who live that way: the homeless.

    See, that's the problem with this kind of infrastructure: once society accepts it widely, you don't have a choice but to use it yourself.

  • Please stop being retarded, please stop being retarded. Passive RF tags are cool, I could find the TV remote anywhere in my house by pressing a button on a remote control. I could also walk out of a store without passing by a register (like the IBM commercial) with a couple goods in my pockets. To insist that we will be tracked in the future is a misleading concept. We ARE fucking tracked wherever we go. If I want to know where you went on vacation I pull up a TRW on you and find out when and where your transactions took place. Same if I want to know what you eat or how healthy your children are. Face it: you're a fucking number. So anyways RF ID tags have a very very very short range, I would be really hard pressed to track a tag from orbit even if I was a government body with trillions of dollars at my disposal. I don't see the point of people complaining, the jolt cola you're drinking whilst being a l33t haX0r has a UPC code on it which is scarely different from an RFID tag.
  • Then how would it count how many were bought? Sure, ot could measure signal strength, but I presume that this would be affected by position too. Hard to distinguish two cartons far away from the sensor from a single one closeby.

    If you read the article, you'd notice that, unlike bar codes, the plan with this thing is to assign a unique ID to every single transmitter; if you bought two packages of Oreos, they'd each have their own unique ID. Indeed, the scheme being talked about uses a 96-bit number--an 8-bit header, 24 bits for the manufacturer ID (that's enough for 16.7 million companies); 24 bits for the product ID (with up to 16.7 million products/manufacturer); and a 40-bit serial number (enough for over 1 trillion different packages of Oreos). That's plenty sufficient to track every single thing manufactured in the world for quite some time.
  • by Eil ( 82413 ) on Saturday February 17, 2001 @07:19PM (#422816) Homepage Journal

    Steve Halliday, vice president of technology at AIM, a trade association for manufacturers of tagging technology, says, "If I talk to companies and ask them if they want to replace the bar code with these tags, the answer can't be anything but yes. It's like giving them the opportunity to rule the world."

  • Simple prevention: Gnaw on them. As Scott Adams said, "A few bite marks can be more effective than The Club at preventing theft." That's why nobody steals my 88 Festiva even though the doors are rarely locked and the key is in the car.

    Tell me what makes you so afraid
    Of all those people you say you hate

  • Actually, penny tags don't transmit at all. They are passively detected by the "scanner" device which emits a signal which resonates with the coils in the tags resulting in a slightly different frequency getting read back by the scanner (at a much lower power level obviously). These are very simple devices. The trick is being able to distinguish and read lots of signals at a modest range (10s of feet) given lots of different incidence angles and noise sources.
  • Well, it's simple really, isn't it ?

    This will create a market for products that aren't 'tagged'

    If the public are educated and informed of this invasion of privacy, then product sales will take a dive.

    I certainly won't be buying any Sony or Motorola products if they 'tag' them.
  • Especially if they meet a price point such that it is economical to use the tags in a throw-away manner. Imagine being able to poll the contents of a warehouse/transit container/etc. in real time and without worrying about a guy missing something with his handheld inventory scanner.

    Another cool use would be at the grocery store. Fill your cart with tagged items, when you walk out (no lines or cashiers) the scanner tallies the total and sends you an itemized bill at the end of the month or charges your debit/credit card. Or the book store (same idea). "But... but... then the Man would know what I bought!" He already does. Database A (books sold to CC#) JOIN to Database B (CC# to customer information), SELECT as needed. Note that all of that already exists except that a human and a POS system facilitate the transaction instead of radio waves.

    Heck, if they're really cheap, combine them with microsensors for things like soil nitrogen content, soil moisture, etc. and some triangulating receiver stations for dumped-out-of-the-back-of-a-plane microagriculture monitering stations. Or if they're really light combine them with a streamer and some triangulating stations to measure air currents inside of a tornado/storm (combine with thermometer and or barometer for information from inside the storm). The whole unique-id-to-position thing could be extremely handy for field measurements of all types, particularly if it is effectively zero marginal cost to the instrument.

    "Overrated" is "overfuckingused".
  • by PatJensen ( 170806 ) on Saturday February 17, 2001 @11:06PM (#422831) Homepage
    There are devices already on the market that can do this and are quite cheap. Dallas Semiconductor makes pin sized ROMs that can contain serial numbers or product IDs used for warranty tracking, product tracking, authentication, whatever.

    You can get more information and SDKs on how to program them at

    While I think the radio element does leave an element of traceability, I can see them having a use for service records, warranty and inventory tracking for businesses, say renting out handheld radios to field staff or phones or whatever.


  • What you fail to realise is that the dream of retailers in the 21st century is "dynamic/variable pricing". What this means in reality is that retailers, in their never-ending desire to increase profits in stagnant industries, are working towards their nirvana of first-degree price discrimination. There will be no fixed prices for goods in places like your supermarket anymore. All that information on your purchasing habits, your marginal propensity to consume for each item, has been carefully squirreled away thanks to your 'loyalty' card. In effect, what retailers are working towards is determining your 'maximium willingness to pay' for each item and then charging you that. Good for the very poor, bad for everyone else, possibly efficient from an economist's point of view. So when you say "Jeeze, won't it be neat when I can go round the store and not have to stop at the checkout", it won't, because you'll be paying far more for the basket of goods than you ever used to pay. And you won't know what other people are paying because items won't be visibly priced anymore. Firms are moving towards this now. Amazon tried variable pricing, now you know why. Other firms are starting you off on the weak stuff, second-degree price discrimiation, before they get you onto the hard stuff, first-degree price discrimination. As evidence of the later, supermarkets have trialed peak and off-peak shopping, cash rich but time poor (pay more), and time rich but cash poor (pay less), respectively. The thing with psychology is if you're asked for a donation of 5 bucks and you say no and then you're asked for a donation of 1 buck you give it. That's because the request has been 'framed'; 1 buck don't seem so bad in comparison to 5. The clever person asks for the 5 bucks first when really they want the 1 buck all along. So, first-degree price discrimination won't seem so bad when compared to second-degree price discrimination. You heard it hear first folks. It's coming. It most certainly won't be neat. Finally, don't underestimate the strength of your adversary. You people seem to consistently do that.
  • by Raindeer ( 104129 ) on Saturday February 17, 2001 @11:25PM (#422834) Homepage Journal
    Yes, or where the other sock went. That is truly one of the greatest mysteries of the twentieth century.


  • All your © are belong to us!
  • We're talking 1 cm, right now, maybe a couple of feet when the tech is perfected, and even then the devices don't continually broadcast, they only respond to speciall readers. So no, companies can't follow their produts to your home.

    People knowing that I went home doesn't bother me. However, consider all the places that currently have anti-theft scanners at their exits. Now imagine if said scanners were replaced with radio tag readers. Suddenly, people know that I walked past the scanner at the entrance of Store X at 4:34 pm, Store Y at 4:48 pm, and Store Z at 4:51 pm.

    Of course the real paranoia doesn't kick in until you've got the data being collected at some central location. However, I'm reminded of the all-to-recent Slashdot story of faces being scanned at the Superbowl to check for known felons. Is it that far of a stretch to imagine that they might suddenly start scanning for any item purchased on the credit card of a person who is now wanted? Is it that far of a stretch to imagine the people scanning the database failing to pick up on the fact that the item was returned and is sitting on the shelf, waiting for another consumer to buy it?

  • by crlf ( 131465 ) on Saturday February 17, 2001 @07:27PM (#422844)
    What about digitally masterful theives? I don't want to allow some punk riding down the street to know exactly what I have in my house!.. If this were EVER to be made, then I'd be the first to push for a blocker technology that would stop anyone from ever being able to determine what I had. I'd make it into a keychain on top of that so that I'd be query-safe from anyone everywhere I went. Just a thought.
  • By the time that message left your LAN, your NIC's MAC had been replaced by that of your router, and every router along the path to here. Big difference....
  • No disrespect to the US constitution, but it doesn't mean jack outside of the US

    No disrespect to people of other countries, but the Bill of Rights does mean quite a bit everywhere. Like the Declaration of Independence, it makes statements about global theories, as well as setting out local rules.

    "Rights" are distinct from "privileges". "Rights" are something you have REGARDLESS of what your government claims. (It's just up to you to defend them against government ATTEMPTS to deny you the use of them.)

    The Delaration of Independence makes the de-novo claim that such rights exist, lists a few of the ways the English government attempted to deny them to the Colonists, and declares that certain Colonies are now independent. The Bill of Rights contains a list of SOME of the rights that were considered particularly important, along with a binding prohibition on the US governments (federal and state) against even TRYING to deny them.

    Now you don't have to believe that these Rights were given to you by "Nature" or "Nature's God". But the documents claim Rights are not the creation of governments, but are pre-existing (and that the proper function of government is to DEFEND them.) Thus they are claiming that YOU have Rights REGARDLESS of who you are or where you live. You can decide to beileve this, too, and start USING and DEFENDING those rights.

    What is distinct about the US is that the US government's core documents explicitly list some of these rights, the US legal system explicitly claims that if a law attempts to deny them it is not actually a law but only the appearnce of one, which grants no power, creates no office, and need not be obeyed, and if an official tries to enforce such a law or otherwise acts to interfere with the exercise of these rights he's no longer acting as an official, but as a criminal individual.

    HERE the Bill of Rights is part of the law of the land. THERE it's just an assertion. You can believe it and act on it if you feel like it. And just like here, if enough of you are willing to believe it and risk acting on it, you might make something similar the law of YOUR land.

    Or you might die trying. "The Tree of Liberty must be watered, from time to time, with the blood of Patriots and Tyrants."

    ... more disturbingly, it seems like your constitution is only considered relevant when it doesn't affect corporations or the governments ability to violate your privacy, take away your rights, or basically screw you six ways from Sunday:(

    Of COURSE!

    With respect to governments: They're always trying to get away with more than they're allowed. And the people have to slap them down. Usually they do it in court. Sometimes they do it in other ways. (Look at the writings of the Founders. That's what they expected. That's why the hamstrung the government with three branches and a "balance of power" - they were trying to make it easy to gridlock it whenever it tried to do something outside its proper bounds.)

    With respect to corporations: That's because the Constitution puts limits on GOVERNMENTS in their dealings with INDIVIDUALS and groups of them. It does NOT place limits on the INDIVIDUALS and groups in their dealings with each other. Corporations are groups of individuals, so the constitution does NOT place limits on them - when they're not acting as part of the government.

    But it DOES allow OTHER individuals and groups of them to defend themselves against COERCION by government, individuals, or groups. That includes coercion by corporations. It explicitly allows them to have the TOOLS to defend themselves. (That's why the Second Amendment came up.) And it allows the government to mediate such disputes, define limits on coercive behavior by them and punishments for it, and enforce those limits.

    The government has greater powers with respect to Corporations than it does with respect to other groups of citizens. That's because Corporations are a creation of government laws. The government licenses groups of people to put some resources in a pot for a money-making (or other) project, and if they get in a dispute it limits their liability to the resources in the pot, as long as they don't deliberately break any criminal laws and follow the rules of the license. A corporation is treated like a separate individual before the law - but as a creation of a license it has mostly privileges, not rights (though the privileges are largely modeled on the rights and privileges of individuals), and what rights it has are the rights of its component individuals.

    As for VOLUNTEERING to buy a product with a radio-locatable tag: You can chose to do it. You can chose not to do it. Or you can chose to do it and then remove the tag.

    They're just there to keep track of inventory. Once it's yours, remove it (or burn it out in place).
  • by SmoothOperator ( 300942 ) on Saturday February 17, 2001 @07:28PM (#422853) Homepage
    There are those out there who claim that cell phones cause brain/eye cancer.
    Now imagine zillions of little chips emitting radiation. So if you're a Coca-Cola delivery guy, and handle many, many cases of Coke each and every day, you ain't having any kids... Sorry.

    And then, we'll have script kiddies and hardware gurus making an electronic version of the dog whistle. They turn it on, and VOILA! each and every chip within 10 miles responds and gets fried. And Coca-Cola loses track of 100,000 items. So they produce more, and all other companies who's chips got fried produce more of their products. There is no demand, they lose money, America goes bankrupt and civilization collapses. Conclusion: Your privacy will be violated only for a little while: then we'll all go back to the Stone Age.

  • > ...collision detection and retransmission...

    While this works fine for ethernet, it is somewhat hard to design this in a reliable way for these simple transmitter. Indeed, you'd have to guard not only against undercounting, but also overcounting. What happens if a product misdetects a collision, and responds a second time? What happens if a collision takes place, which is seen by the scanner, but by none of each products? etc. With ethernet, "false alarms" about collisions are no problem, because the extra packet (carrying the same contents as the previous one) will simply be discarded. With product counting, this can't be done, as not only the contents of the packets is important, but also their number. Hence the need to have unique ids by item rather than by kind of item.

  • 1) The US Army has more and better guns than the average normal gun-owner

    There are a lot more gun-owners. Many of them are ex-military. And the US military is made up of citizens sworn to uphold the constitution and laws - one of which forbids its use in domestic law-enforcement and other such actions.

    If the government goes tyrannical, provokes a popular uprising, and tries to use the army to suppress it, they may find many of the troops going over to the other side - somtimes as coherent units - and taking the whiz-bang weapons with them.

    2) Since when is armed action against corporations defensible?

    Whenever it's self-defense against coercion. People have a right to self-defense, whether it's against a crook with a gun or a corporation with one.

    But I don't think that's what is really at issue here. These are inventory control tags. You can chose to buy products marked with them. You can chose NOT to buy products with them. Or you can chose to buy products with them and then remove them or burn them out. Armed attacks on Sun Microsystems or Motorola seem unjustified. B-)

    3)As stated before, not everyone lives in the USA.

    See my previous response here. []
  • Ten years from now, everybody's going to be running around their houses at ten to seven, with a little tricorder looking thing, searching for their keys. Of course, what happens if you loose the tricorder thingy? :)
  • I almost hope this actually happens the way they predict, if for no other reason than to see ®TMark [] find a way to sabotage it.
  • by AaronStJ ( 182845 ) <> on Saturday February 17, 2001 @07:32PM (#422873) Homepage
    Knowing slashdotters, the first thing that's gonna happen is everyone is gonna have a fit about consumer rights. Now they can track us wherever we go. Now they can tack away are basic privancy. Etc.

    One thing that the article makes clear and the everyone should keep in mind is the range of these things is extremely limited. We're talking 1 cm, right now, maybe a couple of feet when the tech is perfected, and even then the devices don't continually broadcast, they only respond to speciall readers. So no, companies can't follow their produts to your home.

    This said, the radio tags seem like a good idea to me. With devices like retail bcomes a lot cooler. The checkpoint devices will actually work correctly, for one. When you walk out of the store, a reader on the entrance will only sound an alert if you have a tag that is in inventory. No more false alarms. And checkout will be very easy. Instead of scanning every item by hand, a reader can quickly tally every item in your cart. Not to mentioneEvery cart could have a reader that keeps a running tally for you. No more overspending.

    Things get better on the other side of the equation, too. Taking inventroy is very easy. Walk down the isles with a reciever, and it tallies everything. Put recievers in trucks and make sure your stock isn't dissappearing. The list of cool things that these can do go on and on.

    This isn't a technology to be afraid of. Read the article. Be happy. These things are already working wonders is things like ski lift tickets and livestock managment. Don't let paranoia get in the way of some cool technology.
  • anyways RF ID tags have a very very very short range, I would be really hard pressed to track a tag from orbit even if I was a government body with trillions of dollars at my disposal. I get your overall point, but ELINT interception is more an issue of whether you know what you're looking for and where to look for it. Actually sensing it isn't really that much of a problem. RF is RF, and there are some fairly sensitive national technical means out there. Even civilian radio telescopes are sensitive enough to receive RF-bandwidth radiating sources whose received power makes a snowflake hitting the ground seem like a nuclear bomb by comparison. Anecdotally, I've been told that it's possible to "see" the wrecks of World War II B-25 Army Air Corps bombers at the bottom of Lake Murray in South Carolina, USA -- because of the radar reflections off them, even though they're underwater!
  • I was reading somewhere (USA Today, I think. I probably submitted it as a story, unless I decided it would probably would be rejected so why bother?) that some company thought to do this and the outcry was so overwhelming that they had to back down. Their current tags are set up to be worn, rather like the ones used on people under house arrest. Wish I could remember the company or where I read this...
  • by JediTrainer ( 314273 ) on Saturday February 17, 2001 @07:32PM (#422879)
    This headline is flamebait. Anyone who reads about this technology knows that the radio tags are so small that they can only transmit a few inches. Basically the idea is to give the ability to bar-code something without having to locate the actual tag with the code on it. No fumbling around at the cash register, trying to get the product oriented just right so the device can read the code.

    It's not like they're sticking a transponder in there which can be tracked by GPS. Sun's not going to watch your new computer go home with you in your car.

    In addition, it won't give them more information about you than they already know about you, since most electronics hardware already has its serial number which is globally unique. This tag still won't give them the ability to trace the unit to you personally, unless the store you bought the unit from gives them access to their customer records (not very likely, IMO), including credit card info. I'm not sure about the legalities, but since Motorola is already able to tell that you own one of their Cell phones for example (which transmits its ESN for everyone to hear), then this really isn't anything new.

  • that you have to worry about, but the day that they want to implant it.

  • This is a short list right off the top of my head of things that have happened in my lifetime that people were initially very upset about but they then got used to:

    • sending in a punchcard with a bill payment (becoming "just a number")
    • ongoing military action without declaring a war
    • welfare (as a demoralizing trap)
    • appearance of UPC tags on consumer items
    • restrictions on carrying firearms (the Black Panthers carried firearms in public because the law said they could -- see this article [])
    • credit cards (the rise of consumer debt)
    • criminalization of drug possession/use
    • high school students being paid police informants
    • requiring social security numbers for children
    • mandatory drug tests
    • employee background checks
    • the RICO act and Asset Forfeiture
    • political correctness
    • expelling students for casual conversation

    I really don't think there is a dark motive behind the technology in this article but remember: just because you're paranoid, that doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.

    OpenSourcerers []
  • What you say is incredibly presumptious, since in your text lies an implied assumption that the US holds the perfect or least flawed constitution. This is a perfectly valid opinion, but remember that it is only that -- an opinion.

    I made no such claim of perfection - you read that into my post.

    What I did was respond to a claim that the 2nd amendment of the US Bill of Rights was irrelevant to the argument (because it didn't apply to people outside the US) with an explanation of how the internal structure of it and the Declaration of Independence claim that they ARE applicable.

    While not all western nations have constitutions that fulfill the criteria you listed, most do.

    Personally, I'm a fan of several constitutions.

    Indeed. But look at the relative timing of their passage. The US constitution, along with the theories behind it and hte results of its adoption, can be assumed to be a major influence in the construction of most of them.

  • I fear your teachers have made you the victim of a defective education. You have a few events out of order and appear to be advocating a disprovable educational fad. Perhaps we can come to agreement if these are corrected. (Or perhaps you can point out where I'm wrong. B-) )

    how theoretical....your own NSA, secret service, and pentagon eat your constitution for lunch every single day.

    A tendency of government that the Founders warned against and tried to head off. Their work held up amazingly well until World War I began the expansion of the Federal government that changed the balance of power between it and its citizens.

    your utopic dissertation is quite innacurate mostly everywhere. a constitution rules the State in which it is valid,

    As I said: Here it's the law of the land. Everywhere else it (claims to be) a statement of an ideal.

    tell the french to follow your constitution! it doesn't work. different cultures have different values.

    Tom Payne went over there and did. That, along with the success of the American Revolution, were major factors leading to the French Revolution.

    And it DIDN'T work the same way. And it nearly got Tom's head cut off (by the revolutionaries), too.

    Profit used to be banned in China. Their culture is more religious and conservative than american. How can you make speculation look good in China after thousands of years of economy that ignored the western world? Profit, commerce and money are the basis for our western world. Not there.

    Actually, for thousands of years they WERE the basis of the economy there, as well. Chinese were the permier capatilists (and small businessmen) of the world. Then the Chinese Communist revolution and Mao's regime attempted to stamp it out - apparently unsuccessfully.

    How do you enforce a French-based constitution there?

    "French-based"? You seem to subscribe to a current fad among left-wing historians, which attempts to analyze all constitutions and revolutions in terms of the French. (This is very convenient for them when they argue against actually empowering the people and for elitist rule.)

    The American Revolution predates (and to a large extent inspired) that of the French, and both the theoretical and political influences on it were wildly divergent. The US constitution owes much more to the Iriquois Confederacy than to anything from Europe.

    Before the colonization of the Americas the histories of the Greek and Roman Republics were used to support the claim that Republican governmental forms were flawed, and that a strong leader (such as a King or Emporer) was needed for stable government.

    In North America the Six Nations Confederacy was operating a stable and powerful republic, across a land area that dwarfed the kingdoms of Europe and across cultural and language barriers that dwarfed the collection of them. There's a Franklin quote to the effect that if THEY could make it work then WE bloody well ought to be able to do so. The Federal Constitution is more closely modeled on their institutions than those of Europe.

    Jefferson expected them to eventually become allies and perhaps petition for admission as states or otherwise form a combined nation. (Unfortunately for them, their public health measures had so reduced disease and thus the need for resistance to it, while Europeans were spending a millenium "mortifying the flesh", that many of the tribes were decimated by the sudden introduction of several European illnesses - of which Smallpox is merely the most notable.)

    Need I mention Israel? Need I mention Cuba? Humanity, rights and law are complicated. Therefore, I think your ideas are nice, but they don't reflect reality.

    Thank you. But I think you misunderstood my post.

    I wasn't claiming those ideas as mine. I was explaining how the documents themselves claim a measure of universal applicability, in response to a claim that they only applied in the US.

    The American Constitution is a beautiful piece of work. And it has been working for Americans (except in elections) for over 200 years.

    Actually, it's in elections that it is most effective - and still working today. Note that in the recent presidential election power was transferred after a lot of talk but without tanks in the street. THAT's what it's about.

    Republics aren't about fairness. Republics are about figuring out who would win the civil war, so you don't have to actually FIGHT it. As long as the election process is a good enough model of the war that anyone trying to reverse it by WAR would LOSE, there generally won't be a war.

    (Note that it doesn't have to predict the war outcome accurately. Starting a war to reverse a close election will bring out a lot of people against those who are trying to reverse it, and tip the balance.)

    It is a piece of work derived from a lot of blood and pain in Europe in the 18th century. The french revolution killed thousands. The russian revolutions killed thousands.

    Again: Please check your chronology. How could the US Constitution be derived from the shed blood of the French and Russian Revolutions when it predates them?

    Rome, greece, all in there in blood and knowledge. So slowly we will make the world a better place. But don't overestimate your constitution's powers. As an example it is very valid anywhere. As a document, only within american soil.

    I think we're agreeing with each other here. As I said, the Bill of Rights claims that everybody HAS certain of the rights it enumerates, but only claims to BIND the US Federal (and in some cases, state) governments.

    Take care.

    And you as well.
  • Read the f*cking article, everyone! With a range that is currently 1 cm and isn't gonna get much gger, no one is gonna be tracking anyone and ripping away rights. Read the article and chill out.
  • . . . by a unique hardware ID.

    Namely my NICs MAC address. Unique hardware IDs are ultamately necessary for networking. The question is will all of their uses be fully disclosed and optional.


    "There is no number '1.'"
  • by jfunk ( 33224 ) <> on Sunday February 18, 2001 @09:41AM (#422904) Homepage
    Why do you want to "burn out" the tag? ("burn out" is a pretty dumb term, considering that you would just want to remove them. Any process the "burn out" will describe would be likely to damage you or your equipment.)

    That serial number on the bottom of your equipment can be read at a greater distance. Do you scratch out serial numbers from the bottoms of equipment you buy?

    Do you realise that they already know if you bought it if you sent in that warranty card?
  • The Amish.

    Even the Amish are giving in to pressure. As I understand it, cellphones are just about acceptable as long as they're not used in the house, and not on the Sabbath. They've had (legally mandated) battery operated turn signals on their carriages for years now.

  • What is worrying is that I can see most people perceiving the risk factor of removing their tags (and subsequently having to pay for the item to be repaired by a third party) as too great to exercise what really, when it comes down to it, is a right - not a privilege.

    And if the information is valuable enough, and enough people take their privacy seriously enough, retailers or manufacturers will quietly slip known defective products into the supply stream to up the cost of privacy.

  • Well the slashdot strategy is to argue about it amongst ourselves, detailing the moral implications, and loudly denouncing them for thinking of it. We like to call it the "Preaching to the Choir" defense.

    We could just write our legislators, then use our vote to indicate our disapproval, but that would just be crazy.
  • There are those out there who claim that cell phones cause brain/eye cancer.

    In the immortal words of Ebeneezum the Wizard:

    "There are also those who claim that if you stick your fingers in your nose and blow, you'll increase your intelligence."

    The larger, better-controlled studies on cancer vs. EMF have all come out negative.
  • I think that the issue is more along the lines of people being able to surreptitiously read the tags on things that you're carrying/ wearing. The idea of people being able to do things like pool data, and track me from store to store, or figure out what brands I'm carrying/wearing is ... well... spooky.
    Well, Mr. Smith. From the stores you've just visited, I presume that you're looking for some lingerie for your....

    Hmm. From the tags, she's not your registered wife, so I presume this is your lover?

    As for burnout... It might fry some electronic equipment, but it shouldn't hurt more inert objects, like furniture and clothing.
  • by nomadic ( 141991 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .dlrowcidamon.> on Saturday February 17, 2001 @07:41PM (#422919) Homepage
    One thing that the article makes clear and the everyone should keep in mind is the range of these things is extremely limited. We're talking 1 cm, right now, maybe a couple of feet when the tech is perfected, and even then the devices don't continually broadcast, they only respond to speciall readers. So no, companies can't follow their produts to your home.

    No fair using facts, I wanted to have a fit...
  • Thanks for the references. (I've squirreled them away on my home machine so I can find them after they horizon out on Slashdot - something I rarely feel a need to do.)

    Indeed, the US constitution was strongly influenced by history, with a special emphasis on the legal systems of both the then-current countries and all the historical sources available to the founders. While a major factor in the revolution was the denial to the colonists of their perception of "The Rights of Englishmen", when they went on to design their own government they drew from all those sources and debated interminably, rather than trying to idealize the British system or hack up something de-novo.

    I know the Sweedish system was mentioned in the debates. As a set of maritime nations the colonies had a significant Sweedish population fraction. (My wife is the historian in the family, and I'll ask her about what Sweedish contirbutions are known to have made it into the Declaration, Articles of Confederation, Constitution, etc.) Also: The Brittish Common Law draws a lot from the Sweedish system. (Partly because of Vikings, some of whom became noble families on the British Isles.)

    (Interestingly: While the separation of Church and State was largely driven by Protestant ministers who didn't want a repeat of the European persecutions, another factor was a significant Muslum population and an even larger number of transient Muslums among the shipping industry. The founders explicitly debated whether to be a non-denominational-but-Christian country and the Islam was used as the prime example of a non-Christian religion that produced people of good morals.)
  • Hit "submit" rather than "preview". A couple edits I'd have made otherwise:

    Thanks for the references. (I've squirreled them away on my home machine so I can find them after they horizon out on Slashdot - something I rarely feel a need to do.)

    Meant to say "I've squirreled YOUR POST away - something I rarely feel a need to do." It was excelent.

    I know the Sweedish system was mentioned in the debates. As a set of maritime nations the colonies had a significant Sweedish population fraction.

    Meant: I know the Swiss system was explicitly discussed. I don't know that about the Sweedish, but given the Sweedish population component I strongly suspect it was. (and will consult my local expert B-) )
  • by taniwha ( 70410 ) on Saturday February 17, 2001 @07:49PM (#422929) Homepage Journal
    just walk into the mall, fire it up, and let it rip (imagine the whine from the ghostbusters backpacks followed by a really loud crackle ...) .... oh you wanted kids? tough ....
  • Remember those little tags on mattresses and pillows that say "Do not remove under penalty of law"? Well, now you can have them on everything!

    And how easy will it be to remove the tags if they hide them by molding them into the plastic of your keyboard or mouse? The only good thing is that these would have very low range (presumably being RF-powered), and would not be networkable. At least not until they come up with base stations for them.

    Just imagine walking around with these things embedded in the credit cards in your wallet, as you walk through various doorways with receiver units in the doorframes. Big Brother really will be watching you then!

  • by ksheff ( 2406 ) on Saturday February 17, 2001 @07:55PM (#422934) Homepage

    From the article:

    At the heart of this scenario is a little device called a "radio frequency identification tag" - a silicon chip that boots up and transmits a signal when exposed to the energy field of a nearby reader.
    These things don't start transmitting until someone scans them. Even then, it's verly low power. I have something very similar that is the area of a credit card and about 2-3mm thick. It's used as an ID badge at work. They don't do anything until they are scanned by a reader and then they transmit a weak signal back w/ the card's serial number. This is compared to a database of what doors that card can open and if it matches, the door unlocks and I walk in.

    I can certainly understand why some companies would want to this in order to get a handle on inventory control and shrink. It would be great for them. I don't like the tracking and marketing aspects of it at all. I don't like junk mail (real or virtual), whether it's random or targeted. (After the lawyers, can we kill all the people in Marketing? =)

  • Removal might either be impossible (chip built into device's board itself) or illegal and easily detected (like those ink things they put on clothes at the store that explode if you try to remove them). A better option is to disable the chip with clever hacking or a more direct method. Now where did I put my pinpoint EMP gun? :-)
  • No, the Man (Little Brother, really) doesn't know what you bought. Not if you use CASH - what a concept. I use cash for as much purchases as's also faster in addition to being anonymous.
  • by b1t r0t ( 216468 ) on Saturday February 17, 2001 @08:00PM (#422937)
    There are those out there who claim that cell phones cause brain/eye cancer. Now imagine zillions of little chips emitting radiation.

    Sigh, another karma whore who posted before reading the article. These things only transmit a signal when exposed to "the energy field of a nearby reader". Which means they're obviously RF-powered. No power signal, no radiation, no cancer. The FUD line is over there in Redmond, take a number.

    And then, we'll have script kiddies and hardware gurus making an electronic version of the dog whistle. They turn it on, and VOILA! each and every chip within 10 miles responds and gets fried.

    But I like that idea.

  • by norton_I ( 64015 ) <> on Saturday February 17, 2001 @08:02PM (#422938)
    That is exactly what you would want to do. The primary legitimate purposes of these devices are for inventory tracking from manufacture to purchase. At that point the tag should be burned out.

    Chances are, you can do this the same way they handle the anti-theft "stickers" on CDs and such. They work by the same principle (inductive coupling) but have a simple RC circuit at the center of the spiral antenna. In a weak RF field, they couple to the field and give a detectable signal. when the store runs your CD over the eraser, it generates a moderate strength RF field that burns out the RC ciruit.

    You could do the same with these tags, either at the store, or once you got it home (if the stores won't do it for you). Enough power down the antenna will burn out the circuit, and render it useless.

    These types of tags really have the potential to streamline production and shipping, and are in general a Good Thing(tm). We just have to be careful how they are used. Almost exactly like every other technology in existence.
  • Maybe, I missed something, but when I read the article, I didn't ready anything about them wanting it to work over a large range. The privacy issues get brought up when the marketing guys want to give you 'RF-CueCats' so you can look up product information (and they get your information) and/or scanners in internet enabled home appliances.

    From a logistical standpoint, this sounds very cool. Like everything else, it turns to crap once marketing gets involved.

  • by norton_I ( 64015 ) <> on Saturday February 17, 2001 @08:08PM (#422947)
    That whole mattress tag thing is a myth, and the RF tags would be the same situation. Mattress tags are not to be removed, except by the consumer. They contain information such as materials and safety warnings that need to be given to the consumer. It really isn't much different from the "nutrition facts" label on food products -- this is the same reason that when you buy a bag of candy bars, they say "not labeled for individual resale" -- they don't have the government mandated nutrition information on individual bars.

    Likewise, you will be permitted to remove RF tags from products you own. Hopefully the government will prohibit placing them where it is hard to remove, but if not, they can be burned out with an RF field slightly stronger than used to read them.
  • As in that ad they ran a while ago with the scruffy guy with shifty eyes in a trench-coat walking around a grocery store, stuffing things into his pockets. As he walks out the door, the security guard stops him -- to hand him his receipt.

    That's what this technology is leading to: no lines at checkout. Just push your cart through the scanner, either swipe your card or hand over the cash, and leave. Or, if you really trust the newfangled "radio bank card" that will shortly follow, just walk on out (or maybe press the yes button when your "watch" beeps and displays the charge amount).

    Sure, it might make your purchases a little more trackable, if you pay electronically, but I doubt the option to use good old anonymous cash is going away any time soon. And these tags themselves are exactly equivalent to bar codes WRT privacy.
  • First, the occupational safety of the guy scanning stuff is a much different issue than every product in the country constantly broadcasting at every person. Now, it could still suck to be him, but the power levels of these things are (in my estimation) several orders of magnitude lower than cell phones, and the extent of effect cell phones have is far from clear.
  • I realize that not everyone in the world is going to own a Sun product, but lets say this scheme was in corporated by a more consumer level company like Magnovox or RCA, or Sony. Then walk through any random neighborhood and chances are good that almost every house or apartment will contain at least ONE of these products.

    Some anonymous individual who aquires a method for exctracting this ID from remote and is able to match the item to a specific product should walk through a neighborhood getting an inventory of everyone's homes. Then publish a list of ALL these products cross referenced by address and mail it out to everyone in the area. Make sure
    you include on this list a listing of all the companies that made this possible. There would probably be such an outrage that these companies would silently retract the whole scheme lest they fall victim to extreme market pressure.

  • You wouldn't have to have a phone line to the fridge or any other appliance. They would all be BlueTooth enabled. You would have to have something in your PC or broadband connector to bridge the home BlueTooth network to the internet. I wouldn't want any BlueTooth device being able to create an outbound IP connection without my concent, though.

  • These devices aren't going to be powerful enough to do 'Enemy of the State' type tracking. In the article it mentioned that the big reason that companies would jump on this is that it makes inventory control so much easier and they can control shrink. If a warehouse had scanners that would detect these tags at every exit, they would know exactly where it left. Sensors on their trucks would know exactly when and where the boxes were unloaded. At check out time at the store, you could just push your basket into a checkout reader and it would automatically give you the bill (ever see the commercial where it looks like the guy is shoplifting, and the security guard stops him to give him the receipt?). This would be a great way to end the long check out lines.

    Where this steps over the line is when they start talking about this to the marketing guys. Then they start talking about devices similiar to the CueCat and how they could gain information on who's buying what, how much, etc. I would NOT want a reader automatically installed in the house or the household appliances. Especially if those were hooked to the internet. Having the option to install them for my own personal use, where only I can access the data, would be fine. The privacy problem there would involve having to look up the ids. Would the first 48 bits be generic (ie tied to the product) and the 2nd 48 bits be the serial number? If so, hopefully, an open CDDB like database containing only the 1st 48 bits would exist so that people could replicate small portions of on their own machines. The user could then periodically update their local database.

    Sun's involvement in this (other than using it for their products) is in providing the servers that would be needed to run the Auto-ID centers. The amount of data to be transmitted from the manufacturers, cataloged and stored would be huge. Sun would like to make sure that it's on their servers and not someone else's.

  • Try removing the tag and carrying it with you for a while. Wander through some area that you know has plenty of readers, like a large store or mall. See what happens when they think you're driving your car through Radio Shock. One could have plenty of fun messing with removing and/or transplanting tags, as long as such activity doesn't become illegal "marketing circumvention."
  • Also, keep in mind that for the forseeable future, research is not particularly directed at increasing range (except maybe for warehouse or industrial scenereos that are less cost sensitive), but at decreasing size and cost while retaining a range of a few feet.

    Now, in a warehouse, it would be sweet to be able to walk down a aisle and have a reader in your back pocket record everything there. But applications like this are still looking at a couple of dollars a tag for some time yet.

    Lets not worry about worldwide GPS tracking of individual grains of rice when it might become feasable.
  • You could do the same with these tags, either at the store, or once you got it home (if the stores won't do it for you). Enough power down the antenna will burn out the circuit, and render it useless.
    I was gonna say, wouldn't an old-fashioned degaussing tool (remember reel-to-reel audio tape, folks?) do about as good a job of this as anything? Is verra simple to make. A few hundred turns of wire capable of handling 120/240 VAC, and an ordinary miniature light bulb to tell you when the thing is on (and prevent causing a short). Power cord, pushbutton switch, ta daaaa! Less than $20 at Radio Slack. (If anybody still frequents that place after they conspired with the Borg, that is.)

    Somebody moderate up the parent article some more; s/he's making sense. Rare these days.

  • I want to tag my tools, so my toolbox will remind me that I forgot to put away my hammer. If I ignore that reminder, my database can tell me I last used the hammer in attic.

    How much does a reader cost? How much do tags cost, in quantity 10, not 100,000?

    For obvious privacy reasons, I don't want to have to register my hammer's tag with any outside entity.

  • As we think on the wonders of this technology (see post #17) I ask that we bow our heads in prayer and give thanks to our corporate masters for saving us from the godless institution of Communism....

    (eerie silence of disbelief)

    What, none of you others are joining me in the worship of the Free Market? Godless Communist heathens! May your currencies collapse and economic stagnation rain down upon your house!

    Um, whoops. I'm gonna get modded down as troll, aren't I?

    IANASRP- I am not a self-referential phrase

Adding features does not necessarily increase functionality -- it just makes the manuals thicker.