Leaving a RFID tag active after purchase could allow for tracking of the product, raising concerns about the privacy of the customer.© Maschinenjunge - Wikimedia Commons, 2008
Limited progress in the deployment of the RFID tags in the retail sector
Following the European Commission Recommendation on the data protection, privacy and security aspects of RFID-enabled applications (May 2009), the JRC and the Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG CNECT) have studied the best available techniques to deactivate tags at the point of sale in the retail sector. The study concludes that the implementation of RFID technology is still limited and that few operators are fully implementing the recommendation foreseeing the deactivation of the tags.
The report highlights possible explanations: low public acceptance, relative high price of RFID tags, difficult environments in some sectors (for instance in the textile production in which high temperatures and chemicals are present) and the hesitation of the industry and retailers to deploy the use of tags, as the recommendation introduces some constraints (deactivation or preliminary Privacy Impact Assessment).
According to these results, the implementation of the RFID recommendation is delayed by strong economic and strategic considerations. Retailers and operators are currently adjusting their efforts to maintain a positive image while guaranteeing their profits, anyhow limiting the use of tags at the point of sale. The benefit of the recommendation for the consumer is at this stage questionable. Indeed, if well controlled and implemented, tags are offering interesting services for the consumers and retailers: goods restitution, authentication of products and goods, faster check out, shop inventories and flows management...
The current market of RFID systems at the point of sale is characterised by a number of fragmented proprietary tailor-made solutions which are not fully matured industrial products. They are in general prototypes and rarely deployed on a wide basis. In that respect, the current on-going standardisation effort will improve the situation, and lead to a better harmonisation.
The RFID Recommendation gives particular attention to the concern about individual tracking and access to personal data in the retail sector, where it is feared that tagged items bought by individuals could be misused by retailers or third parties for tracking or profiling purposes. It establishes the principle that tags must be deactivated at the point of sale unless the customers give their informed consent to keep tags operational.
The new report addresses the best available techniques for RFID tag deactivation at point of sale, which are supposed to be economically viable to provide EU companies with a competitive advantage on the global RFID marketplace, and address at the same time privacy, data protection and security issues.
It summarises the application of RFID tags in the retail sector and illustrates the privacy issues and their related countermeasures in five representative sectors and scenarios: textile, books, luxury goods, automotive and large distribution.