Could RFID Become The Mobile Browser Cookie?

Radio frequency identification (RFID) and near field communication (NFC) chips will become "the new cookie" for mobile in the physical world. That's certainly an unexpected perspective, even hearing it from the mouth of Dean Donaldson, MediaMind global director of media innovation.

Similar to the way technology companies developed a tracking system online through ad tags and browser cookies, transmitting information from one Web page to another. It will let advertisers personalize and target ads to consumers based on preferences. When I heard those words it felt as if a lightning bolt struck me in the chest because I have been reporting on and following the progression of RFID and NFC technology since 2000.

Technology for far too long has been used as a tool to sneak through the back door. Donaldson equates it to riffling through trashcans to figure out what he's buying and then walking around to knock on my front door to say, "Hey, do you want to buy that?"

If Donaldson walked into a store and picked up a pink dress, the salesperson would walk up to him and start asking questions. Perhaps the salesperson would start by asking "Can I help you?" and then move on to "Are you looking for a gift?" The more information he gives away the more the salesperson can assist Donaldson make a final decision on the product to purchase. Rather than view behavioral targeting as evil, most technologist see the online technology as a helpful tool to find the perfect choice by striking up a personal conversation between the brand and consumer.



Donaldson is half correct when referring to the technology. Ultra high frequency (UHF) RFID chips, which provide the longest RF wave range between the reader and chip, can transmit long distances, but the chip would only hold enough information to identify the person wearing it. The remainder of the information would be stored in a database. The chip would need to communicate with the database to access the information about the consumer, but it could trigger an ad in a retail store window based on the consumer's preferences stored in that database.

A chip integrated into the phone could authenticate the connection through a unique identifier. It would act like a cookie if it linked to a database of information. Consumers can go to a physical location and take the experience home if advertisers and marketers tie in social media and RFID, according to Patrick Sweeney, ODIN CEO and author of "RFID for Dummies." "From a mobile marketing perspective, it's a lot less expensive for retailers to use RFID rather than another location-based service because once you get inside a mall or office building the ability to triangulate using GSM or CDMA signals is tough," he says.

6 comments about "Could RFID Become The Mobile Browser Cookie?".
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  1. Andre Szykier from maps capital management, September 29, 2010 at 4:34 p.m.

    You should distinguish between passive RFID (non-powered) and active RFID (self-powered). The former has a limited detection range and would not be useful. Incorporating NFC into mobile chipsets however, could be useful in logging people inside a store for traffic analysis, something that is missing in direct marketing. It can easily be extended to correlating with RFID enabled products on display. What might be difficult is "triangulating" NFC mobile data across multiple stores in a mall for example. That would probably require a web service application with WiFi or WiMax or unlicensed spectrum communications.

  2. David Hawthorne from HCI LearningWorks, September 30, 2010 at 12:32 p.m.

    There is something inherently evil this perspective. Human have a fundamental right to be secure in their persons. That means 'the pink dress' could be for me, or my wife, or my daughter, or my mistress, of my boyfriend --and it's none of anyone else's GD business. If I want help, I would signal for it. That's the way its done. The "store clerk" may have a professional obligation to inquire as to help I might need, but if I turn and run out of the store, or send out my F-off signal, the clerk risks invading my privacy by insisting on helping me.
    If, on the other hand, you riffle through my trash, that's up to you. I do not necessarily have a "presumption of privacy" the covers the stuff I dump out onto a public place. (I can also buy a shredder and a pit bull.)

    Here's what I would argue: If you want to use RFID for this purpose, advertise it BOLDLY. Let people know that if they buy this device it contains an RFID that will link them to a database used by people "selling them stuff." If you want to subsidize the cost of the device, that's a plus 'compensates' the device operator for contributing to your scheme. If you want to work out a deal with retailers (etc>) to provide the carrier of the device with a discount for being "accessible" that's fine too. In both cases the consumer knowingly lifts the veil around his/privacy and receives value for doing so.

    Why is it that so many market researchers are convinced the honesty and openness necessarily compromises the integrity of the data? This is 'old' thinking. Very 'old thinking.' The new digital environment makes it quite easy to overcome 'individual distortions' with the overwhelming volume of observations. Mathematically you can factor out the deceptions --which become their own type of revelation.

    The fact is, the public is a fool if it trusts marketers to 'be respectful of their privacy.' There is a need for legislation here and the industry ought to admit it and collaborated in shaping it. Rules are ultimately in everyone's best interest. (FCC, please note.)

  3. Richard Blaine from RGB Consulting, October 1, 2010 at 10:03 a.m.

    I love the idea of using a passive RFID tag, since it has much better read range than NFC (6-10 feet vs. 1 inch). The ISO standard 18000-6c is universal with retailers (Walmart, American Apparell, M&S, etc are all tagging with the ISO UHF standrd so adoption will be very easy.

    As for the tin-foil hat wearing Mr. Hawthorne screaming for legislation. It's already there. In fact Capital One has been brought to court many time because of their violation of such acts in tracking and nefarious data collection and there is a huge lawwsuite now for online cookies,a s you may know. The bottom line is a passive RFID tag can quickly and easily be destroyed but your credit card, mobile phone and face or figure print cannont. Those are the things to be truly worried about and that is why legislation should be on behavior not against specific technology.

  4. Robert Leathern from, Inc., October 5, 2010 at 12:39 p.m.

    We're still a decent way away from this technology being real in a usable form factor. Sylvie's comment about passive vs. active RFID is a great deal of that.

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 6, 2010 at 11:01 p.m.

    Keep the aluminum foil on the shelves and in the oven. The aliens from outerspace take shapes of all kinds of folks. Just because you think they are human, they insist they are not. Those of these species are just begging to be controlled and are convincing the others as well. And you thought China is controlling. HA!

  6. jame jimme, October 28, 2010 at 1:01 a.m.

    This is nice information, personally i would like to prefer RFID tag, its better than NFC. thanks for sharing this blog, interesting and great job.

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