Manufacturers and retailers are always looking for ways to improve their efficiency, especially in tracking goods through the entire supply chain and retail cycle. Being able to track goods from warehouse to retailer has proven to be an exceedingly difficult task.
To solve these problems, manufacturers and retailers are turning to radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. RFID uses radio frequency communications as a way to track goods as they move through the supply chain. RFID tags are embedded into products, pallets, and cases, and the RFID readers read information from those tags. That information is relayed via a network or the Internet to a centralized database and application. That application collects all the information and gives manufacturers and retailers detailed information about the movement and sale of their goods. That information can also be used with other software to help manufacturers and retailers better gauge sales, for example.
RFID tags can be used for more than commerce, thoughfor example, there are calls to use them to track prescription medications. RFID tags have been implanted in animals, and there are worries that they may be used on humans in medical settingsthe tags would contain information about the patient's condition, medication, and so on, helping to ensure that there are no errors in treatment.
While RFID tags have many uses, many privacy advocates worry that they can be used to invade people's privacy as well.
RFID tags might end up being embedded in the products themselves and might not merely be attached to them, much like UPC bar codes are embedded in many products. If RFID tags stay on products, the technology could be used not just to trace products from manufacturer through the supply chain and to the retailer, but also traced after you buy them. So, readers could conceivably track how you actually use those products, and that information could be collated into a comprehensive profile about you.
In addition, their use in government IDs such as passports and driver's licenses and for medical purposes could cause problems. One big issue is that any RFID reader might be able to read any RFID tag. So, as you traveled in public places and stores, people would be able to gather tremendous amounts of information about you.
As of this writing, the issue is still unsettled, with privacy advocates and RFID advocates still debating RFID use. However, it has moved forward in the supply chains of many companies due to mandates from Wal-Mart and the Department of Defense.