Forget Your Sneakers, Now They're Following You Via Your Tires

from the sense-sensibility-or-none-of-the-above dept

A few weeks ago, we noted how well-known security blogger Bruce Schneier bought into the story about using Nike+iPod devices to track runners' movements -- even though doing so is wholly impractical. Schneier used the story to say "there oughta be a law" requiring companies to build some sort of undefined "security" into these systems, saying that laziness prevented people from considering the security implications of these sorts of devices. As we pointed out, what seemed more likely was that the manufacturer determined the actual threat from the devices was negligible because the information they give up is pretty worthless, and it's difficult to collect it in a meaningful way, so adding in some sort of security mechanism is pretty pointless. Now, Schneier's found a company using RFID to monitor tire pressure in cars, and is reiterating his call for some sort of law covering RFID and other similar technologies. Again, though, there really doesn't appear to be much of a threat here: "tracking" a car via these tires would require either the placement of a ridiculous number of RFID receivers, or staying within a relatively close distance of the car, where a person could simply watch the vehicle with their eyes. Movement in and out of a particular place could be recorded, but again, there are plenty of other ways to get this information. Burdening manufacturers with unnecessary regulations and mandating security that adds complexity and cost when it's not necessary will do very little to actually improve security when it does matter -- an example, it would seem, of what Schneier labels security theater when it pertains to airports and terrorists. Still, if you see anybody driving around with tin foil over their tires, at least you'll now know why.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    C Gomez, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 8:01am

    Nice to see someone brave enough to call out an expert when he's creating hype for hype's sake. I appreciate Mr. Schneier's insights, but his paradoxical calls for less government involvement in preventing terrorism but more involvement in corporate uses of technology always baffle me.

    Don't get me wrong, he's right quite often about airport security theater, but then often labels other perfectly mundane technology as "very scary" and his legions of fanboys line up to claim it's all "Orwell coming true" and that "Bush is behind it all".

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 8:38am

    > "tracking" a car via these tires would require ... the
    > placement of a ridiculous number of RFID receivers

    It's trivial for the government to place reader on major thorough-ways.
    (You make the mistaken assumption that the 'attacker' is the tire manufacturer. The attacker is government.)

    In fact it may be that the presence of RFID chips has been mandated by the government (TREAD act -- intended to track faulty tires) and they have exploited this to track vehicles at border crossing and major roadways (license plate can be scanned to associate RFID transpoder to car/user or car can be 'tagged' if RFID is writable). Do you even doubt for a second that a division of homeland security would pass up such an 'opportunity' to track vehicles?

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 8:41am

    See this link also (ignore the rant-ish nature, consider the question "Why wouldn't the government implement this?")

    http://yro.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=209450&cid=17079870

     

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  4.  
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    Thoms, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 9:05am

    So when your employer adds RFID tracking to the parking lot entrance to help monitor employee actions are you going to complain? When the lawyer for the person you crashed into subpeonas your employers records to, along with your vehicle's recording data, prove your lunch break was spent hurrying around town will you care? What about when your wife's divorce attorney subpeaonas the information to help prove you left work daily for rendevous with your mistress?

    Don't think a large business won't think of this for "security."

    What about the school system that implements a "smart vehicle monitoring system" to record information on vehicles entering and leaving the grounds? All for your children's safety of course. Now the divorce attorney, or children's protective services, or someone else is after that data to prove you never dropped or picked up your kid on time?

    It really is a slippery slope and highlighting and discussing these issues, sometimes with a little hype, is akin to spreading sand on an icing hill before cars start sliding.

     

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  5.  
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    PhysicsGuy, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 9:36am

    Re: Thoms

    When the lawyer for the person you crashed into subpeonas your employers records to, along with your vehicle's recording data, prove your lunch break was spent hurrying around town will you care?

    it's this type of scare tactic that is truly meaningless in this situation. your employer would have a record that proves you were or were not in the parking lot. this proves you spent your lunch break away from the office. how does this prove what you did outside of the parking lot exactly?

    What about when your wife's divorce attorney subpeaonas the information to help prove you left work daily for rendevous with your mistress?

    so, following the previous point i made, your wife's divorce attorney has proof that you weren't at work. :o omg NO!!!! you CAN'T leave work... again, this proves absolutely nothing. it's completely worthless as evidence unless you had someone there to visually witness the rendezvous...

    What about the school system that implements a "smart vehicle monitoring system" to record information on vehicles entering and leaving the grounds? All for your children's safety of course. Now the divorce attorney, or children's protective services, or someone else is after that data to prove you never dropped or picked up your kid on time?

    this one is closer to having a use insofar as the example you highlight. however if your child's education isn't important enough to you that you NEVER drop them off for school on time then you don't deserve custody.

    seriously, the data collected from this information is borderline worthless. sure, it might be useful for an employer to find out if you're skipping work early, so don't skip out on work early. or, omg no... someone might have your personal tire pressure data :o seriously, as has been stated countless times, all the information acquired from these chips as far as "tracking" a person is concerned, is more easily acquired by the good old fashioned ways. seriously, why don't we start a ban on video cameras... or eyeballs?

     

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  6.  
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    casey kochmer, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 9:38am

    reality

    Ok in reality, this type of tracking technology is not a threat today.

    However, given the US government's current obsession with spying on our phone calls, and consolidation of information on each American, Its not rocket science to understand as this technology gets better,it will be used in tracking.

    Seriously right now, you can be more easily tracked by your cell phone, by your credit transactions and other electronic interactions.

    RFID is just another technology which is being added to th e mix.

    I agree with tech dirts assessment that its not the technology that needs to be controlled, its the users of the technology that need to be educated and controlled.

    How is this for a solution:

    Perhaps we should have all the law makers and politicians watched 7 by 24 first. give them wrist chips then see how they like it.

     

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  7.  
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    casey kochmer, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 9:39am

    reality

    Ok in reality, this type of tracking technology is not a threat today.

    However, given the US government's current obsession with spying on our phone calls, and consolidation of information on each American, Its not rocket science to understand as this technology gets better,it will be used in tracking.

    Seriously right now, you can be more easily tracked by your cell phone, by your credit transactions and other electronic interactions.

    RFID is just another technology which is being added to th e mix.

    I agree with tech dirts assessment that its not the technology that needs to be controlled, its the users of the technology that need to be educated and controlled.

    How is this for a solution:

    Perhaps we should have all the law makers and politicians watched 7 by 24 first. give them wrist chips then see how they like it.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Idealist, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 9:42am

    First, I read C Gomez' comments and I agreed. Then, I read Thoms' remarks and I agreed. I guess it is possible to have a spectrum of opinions on an issue and for a person to land on one or more points on that spectrum!

    Everyone who reads Techdirt and comments should grasp this point. It would reduce a lot of name-calling and trolling. Hey, and let's stop correcting typos and grammar while we're at it!

    Bonus benefit: No more "First to Post" declarations. We're Grownups!

     

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  9.  
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    Garfield, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 9:44am

    Re: Thoms

    Cell phone get GPS. GPS useful to owner. GPS gain feature. Oops, GPS useful to spouse, to FBI, to stalker.

    Many time first iteration is very useful, second and third very dangerous because side issue not consider or dismiss. You wait to talk until to late you the fool.

     

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  10.  
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    Thoms, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 10:28am

    Re: Phyicsguy

    how does this prove what you did outside of the parking lot exactly?

    Your car typically records only so many seconds of data (now). It may tell your speed and indicate your behavior in the moments leading up to the crash, but it will do little more. However your employer records your car leaving 15 minutes earlier and the only way that it's physically possible for you to have made it to the accident scene in that time is to have driven an AVERAGE of 20% over the speed limit. That establishes a pattern of irresponsible and illegal behavior which leads to you losing the suit or being criminally charged.

    so, following the previous point i made, your wife's divorce attorney has proof that you weren't at work. :o omg NO!!!! you CAN'T leave work... again, this proves absolutely nothing. it's completely worthless as evidence unless you had someone there to visually witness the rendezvous...

    Ohh, you are SO right, this example proves nothing so by your logic that means the technology can't be misused? Well, how about when your dumb ass gets on the stand and claims you worked late all those nights you were away from home. Then your wife's attorney gets up and introduces evidence that your employer was recording this info and you left every other night hours before you claimed to and your mistress couldn't account for her whereabouts at those times. Not proof, but certainly damning. Want to risk your money and custody of your kids on the outcome of that hearing?

    this one is closer to having a use insofar as the example you highlight. however if your child's education isn't important enough to you that you NEVER drop them off for school on time then you don't deserve custody.

    Yeeaahhh, I typed NEVER, but you're right - I should have have said "establishes a pattern of repeated behavior." Why don't you come back and argue spelling next time? Still, suppose those are your kids and you were never actually late. You let them out, sat there while they talked to their friends, and then watched them enter the school before driving past the sensor on your way to work. Your spouse was consistant in dropping them and racing off past the sensor at the same time every day, but also in ignoring the kids once the door shut. Prove who's more consistantly fit... in court.

    seriously, the data collected from this information is borderline worthless. sure, it might be useful for an employer to find out if you're skipping work early, so don't skip out on work early. or, omg no... someone might have your personal tire pressure data :o seriously, as has been stated countless times, all the information acquired from these chips as far as "tracking" a person is concerned, is more easily acquired by the good old fashioned ways. seriously, why don't we start a ban on video cameras... or eyeballs?

    Yes. I agree. It IS borderline worthless NOW, but what about tomorrow? If you don't consider and discuss these potential misuses of the technology now, before it gets built into everything, what are you going to do later? Do you think RFID will never be modified or expanded? Screw the government they'll have the money and means to track you by all these other means anyway. It's the lawyers and marketers and criminals who will abuse the technology if we ignore it or let it develop unchecked.

     

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  11.  
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    The infamous Joe, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 10:30am

    Uh...

    So, because a type of car uses RFID to figure out tire pressure-- some guy is worried that people will track these cars' owners?

    And Mr. Thoms agrees, saying that perhaps the school system will put in place a system to track people who own cars with RFID tire pressure monitors? Like the 7 or so people with this system need to be tracked?

    I'm so confused... where/how is this a threat to my privacy?

    Maybe it's me? My work uses RFID cards so I can scan in and out-- for security reasons (it unlocks the door) should I be worried? 'cause I'm not.

    and, Mr. Thoms, I think you'd be interested in a RFID-proof wallet, in case the terriorists are tracking you-- google it, it's there (really!)

     

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  12.  
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    Podophile, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 11:24am

    Any EZ-Pass or FasTrack users in the house?

    In any major city that's connected to the outside world by bridges and tunnels, millions of people are driving around with an EZ-Pass/FasTrack-type transmitter in their cars (to automatically pay tolls as they drive past the booth). This has been around for years. And people are worried about the government tracking a tire pressure or running shoe sensor?

     

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  13.  
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    PhysicsGuy, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 11:43am

    Re: Re:

    It may tell your speed and indicate your behavior in the moments leading up to the crash, but it will do little more. However your employer records your car leaving 15 minutes earlier and the only way that it's physically possible for you to have made it to the accident scene in that time is to have driven an AVERAGE of 20% over the speed limit. That establishes a pattern of irresponsible and illegal behavior which leads to you losing the suit or being criminally charged.

    if you're at fault for an accident, suck it up and take responsibility. also, driving above the speed limit does not show causality of an accident... you have more to worry about with on site forensics than you do from RFID monitoring at your place of employment when it comes to an accident. you do realize that fault can easily be determined by examination of the scene correct? also, you could go an average of 80% over the speed limit but if the person swerved into your lane, for example, it's their fault. when it comes to this situation, RFID monitoring compared to a physical analysis of the scene is laughable.

    "Still, suppose those are your kids and you were never actually late. You let them out, sat there while they talked to their friends, and then watched them enter the school before driving past the sensor on your way to work. Your spouse was consistant in dropping them and racing off past the sensor at the same time every day, but also in ignoring the kids once the door shut. Prove who's more consistantly fit... in court."

    and? thank you for providing an argument why RFID monitoring in this situation couldn't be held as evidence in a court of law. in a situation like the one you described the information from the RFID sensors could not be held applicable to prove that the individual in the former circumstance was late for dropping off his kids to school from the mere fact it doesn't record entrance into the school zone. were a situation like the one described brought into a court of law, i'd assume the child's tardiness record would take care of any questions. you do realize without the child actually being late to school you can't use that argument to begin with, correct?

    Yes. I agree. It IS borderline worthless NOW, but what about tomorrow? If you don't consider and discuss these potential misuses of the technology now, before it gets built into everything, what are you going to do later? Do you think RFID will never be modified or expanded?

    tomorrow it will be equally as worthless. as to your last question, it depends on what you mean by "modified or expanded"... the range of RFID chips won't be "expanded", it's the whole point of its use. it will obviously be modified to a degree... but there are far larger privacy and issues dealing with, as i mentioned previously, your standard video camera than there are with RFID chips... people always freak out about new technology without thinking rationally about things. it's like when they started using RFID chips in passports... "oh, look... they CAN counterfeit them, therefore they're pointless"... and how illogical was that whole publicity cry?

     

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  14.  
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    Thoms, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 11:53am

    Yeah

    You don't think much do you infamous Joe? I don't know squat about the RFID chips in tires but lets lay out a general scenario you can grasp.

    Tires get implanted with RFID chips that cars can use to monitor pressure. They send pressure and nothing more. A few cars use them this year and a few more the next, but still only a portion. That's probably where we are now and where there are no problems.

    Gradually cost lessens until most cars use them. The next revision of the tire RFID chips get "improved." Now they send back pressure, temperature, direction of rotation, and a uniquely identifiable ID. Cars start to record this for safety, fuel efficiency and research purposes. Soon their use, and data retention in the black boxes, is mandated by the government because it's all legitimately beneficial.

    Now every tire can be tracked, more immediately identified at select locations, and thus every auto - and you can no longer prevent it. You are stuck with it. Who would want to, why, and how?

    Buy a set of tires? Their ID and your vehicle and name are entered into a database for warrenty and, of course, marketing use. Visit a shopping center? The times, durations, and frequencies of visits are recorded in a database by businesses and marketers. Drive down any road? Unique vehicles, repeat vehicles, speed and time statics are recorded in a database by the highway department to anticipate future needs.

    Hey, they say, if we merge a few databases we can estimate gross weight and other factors that affect road wear too. What's wrong with that, it's an honest use?

    Oops, wait a minute, did we mention speed? Guess what, no more need for traffic cams, you just read the tire IDs then associate them with the vehicles and then the owners. All you need is to do is embed a few readers in select locations, or a lot depending or budge shortfalls, and merge a few databases that are mandated or available for purchase.

    Got a RFID toll pass that you share between vehicles? Not any more, tolls are charged per vehicle now because it's easier and they can more easily charge you extra for vehicles that cause more wear - whether it's because of their gross weight or, let's say, their travelling speed.

    Hey, the city just cleaned up an illegal tire dump. Some shady business didn't properly dispose of all the tires they removed. It's not your fault, but someone got the wise idea to record all the RFIDs and track them back to tire owner and you're fined for not being sure the tire was disposed of properly. Someone's got to help pay for the cleanup after all.

    Do you see the slippery slope now? If not, then make up your own scenario. Some may be rediculous, but others will make you go hmmm, I get get rich selling this idea. All that is needed for every bit of this to become a reality is a unique machine readable ID associated with every tire - or with any piece of a vehicle.

     

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  15.  
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    Arochone, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 11:59am

    Re:

    First of all, most parking lots have security cameras. RFID added would be pretty useless. Not to mention the fact that I have yet to find a public building not covered with cameras, so they could quite easily prove when you were leaving work. And as already posted, they still have to prove where you went.

    And schools keep track if you're late getting there, and if you're late too often, they will take action on their own. Tracking cars coming and going would maybe be able to prove you're always late picking your kid up, but really, that's no big deal. He'll sit there talking to his friends. And if you're REALLY late, I guarantee that the school's gonna notice and do somtehing about it. I dunno where you went to school, or when you graduated, but you seem to not know how they work anymore. You don't have to worry about the children's pretective services going after that data, because the school will call the children't protective services first.

     

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  16.  
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    PhysicsGuy, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 11:59am

    Re: Yeah

    welcome to the internet and then look at all the legal problems with denoting an IP address to represent a single person, and then you'll realize the legal problems with assigning an ID that's readable by anyone and can be cloned by anyone and yet still having that sole person be responsible for actions involved with that ID...

     

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  17.  
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    Thoms, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 12:13pm

    Re: PhysicsGuy

    .. but there are far larger privacy and issues dealing with, as i mentioned previously, your standard video camera than there are with RFID chips...

    Yes there are and we all know that, but thats one of the worst comparisons you could make. Point your video camera at me on the street and record away. Whoopee, what use is that. You don't know me. There are fewer than 50 people in the world that could recognize me by even a detailed picture or voice. Others are more recognizable and others less. Impossible to use that video against me (us), no, but many orders of magnitude more difficult than associating an RFID tag you just read to a name in a database.

     

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  18.  
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    PhysicsGuy, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 12:15pm

    Re: Re: PhysicsGuy

    tell that one to the RIAA who tries to sue people based on IP addresses alone... :P

     

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  19.  
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    PhysicsGuy, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 12:17pm

    Re: Re: PhysicsGuy

    wanna bet on how much the riaa would give for a video of one of the people they're suing actually committing the act of illegally downloading?

     

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  20.  
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    PhysicsGuy, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 12:23pm

    or let's use the "parents in a divorce hearing"... what happens when the one parent tries to show fault about the other only to realize that the name associated with the RFID chip was their own name... what happens when something happens and some mother gets arrested because she bought her son some tires... there are countless examples that would make the use of identifiers in RFID chips inapplicable as sole evidence in a court of law...

    Point your video camera at me on the street and record away. Whoopee, what use is that.

    how about you ask that to someone who got arrested because an in store video camera caught them robbing the place...

     

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  21.  
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    Mike, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 12:44pm

    Today an RFID transmitter in shoes has no value, same with tires. That's why it's no threat.

    If tomorrow every set sold had an RFID tag in it a new industry would develop overnight - marketing, security, government would all be vying for data... with marketing in the lead.

    Every set sold would quickly be linked to a purchaser in some database. That happens in large part now. But the catch would be that every individual, business, marketer, etc. could now track you in and out of their area of interest by scanning that RFID. That data would have great value, both to them and others. It would be bought, sold, aggregated, correlated and so on.

    The more that was collected, the more they'd know about you, your life, you interests, you needs, your travels, and the more valuable it'd become. That would encourage greater investment in readers by big and small businesses alike.

    Think ads, tracking cookies, and the like only in real life and more accurately tied to you.

     

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  22.  
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    Thoms, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 1:00pm

    how about you ask that to someone who got arrested because an in store video camera caught them robbing the place...

    Yeah, and how many tens of thousands of crimes are commited and caught on video yet the criminal isn't caught? It must be filmed. It must show a recognizable image. It must be shown, widely. It must be watched - by someone who is interested and capable of and motivated to identify the perpetrator. Your argument sucks road tar and you know it.

    Place unique, easily readable, RFIDs in all of [any item used by a significant portion of the population] and that item is immediately a target of those who can use the data for their purposes. Marketers. Governments. Criminals.

     

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  23.  
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    PhysicsGuy, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 1:46pm

    Re:

    marketers can do whatever they want with it and in my opinion it doesn't matter... governments can do whatever they want with rfid chips and it doesn't matter because, as you've pointed out, they already have the ability to do so much more RFID chips for the government (aside from mandatory implants at birth o.O) are nothing... marketers and the government can do waht they want and it doesn't legally point to any one individual and anyone who assumes so has lived in a hole the past 10 years. and criminals? criminals are just another reason unique IDs in RFID chips are pointless for associating an individual with that ID. For someone so concerned about security and privacy in RFID chips i'm amazed you even go online at all... the internet in general is more deleterious to security and privacy than RFID chips could even dream about...

     

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  24.  
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    PhysicsGuy, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 1:47pm

    Re:

    oh, and my argument sucks road tar when your techno-conspiracy theories ever see any kind of real world actualization...

     

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  25.  
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    koz, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 1:53pm

    The main point usually made with RFID is that if it's implanted in stuff like clothes it will allow tracking of individual shopping habits (frequency, geo-area, stores preferred etc.). RFID in tyre allows the same - your drive through bank or fast food restaurant could perhaps get in on the act. And I doubt you could just cut the RFID(s) out of a tyre without causing a dangerous situation.

     

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  26.  
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    Bill, Dec 27th, 2006 @ 2:40pm

    free markets take care of this

    If there's a market for RFID's there will also be a market for conspiracy buffs. If you and other people don't like RFID's in your stuff then companies that make the stuff will see that market and sell genuine RFID free stuff. That's how free markets work! If or when news about RFID misuse becomes public then the companies that make RFID free stuff will have an advantage - step 3 PROFIT!

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2006 @ 7:47am

    Put away the tinfoil for RFID.

    The latest tollroad in North Texas uses no tags or transponders of any kind. They read your plate. Period. Drive a car? You can be tracked. No need for chips in tires or anywhere else...

    They do read tags that are used on the nearby tollroads; and scroll down past that to see that you don't need a tag to be billed (and therefore, tracked):

    http://www.texas121.org/english/pay.htm

     

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  28.  
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    Gadget Guru, Dec 28th, 2006 @ 9:02am

    This is becoming like the Net Neutrality battle

    I guess the user must have the choice and say before being tracked using RFID.

    This situation is similar to the Net Neutrality battle wherein the big Cos are pushing to mandate control over the internet at the expense of the consumer/user.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Kelly Harrington, Dec 29th, 2006 @ 5:12pm

    Re: Re: Thoms

    could you take a moment and check out my blog?

    GeorgiaM@xenga.com

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    kelly harrington, Dec 29th, 2006 @ 5:18pm

    Re: Re: Yeah

    please read our blog
    GeorgiaM@xenga.com

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    koz, Dec 31st, 2006 @ 9:23am

    free markets take care of this

    free markets can only take care of this if they are free - how many tire manufaturers do you suppose there are ? maybe more than the number of broadband providers but there's not a lot of competition.

     

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