For consumers who see the RFID tag as the greatest threat to personal privacy since the telescope, there's hope. Researchers from IBM have come up with tag designs that would allow consumers to deactivate an RFID tag after purchase. Their proposals represent an alternative to the current "kill" commands specified by EPCglobal in its Generation 2 protocol. Tags killed under that protocol provide no visible indication that they've been disabled, forcing consumers to rely on retailers' assurances.
The IBM researchers offer several different design options, all aimed at destroying part of the tag's antenna. One plan calls for mounting the tag's antenna in scratch-off material like the coating found on lottery tickets, allowing the consumer to scratch off the coating and immobilize the chip. Other designs call for perforating the line connecting the antenna to the tag (much the way postage stamps are connected) or providing a pull tab so that consumers can tear off the antenna. The researchers say all of their proposed designs can be easily incorporated into current specs for RFID tags at no extra cost.
IMB researcher Paul Moskowitz will present the research to the EPCglobal Hardware Action Group when members meet in Boca Raton, Fla., later this month. Although IBM doesn't intend to get into the RFID tag business, it may partner with tag manufacturers.
"We are presenting another option for managing privacy when it comes to RFID technology," says Moskowitz, who owns 24 RFID-related patents and is IBM's representative on EPCglobal's Hardware Action Group. "This is something the tag manufacturers will have to evaluate."