Education needed in RFID to allay privacy fears – survey

10 Feb 2005

More than half of European consumers think that radio frequency identification (RFID) tags will allow businesses to track them via product purchases, while 59pc are worried RFID tags will allow data to be used more freely by third parties a survey by Capgemini has found.

However, the survey also reveals mixed feelings about the impact on privacy of RFID compared with other technologies: 46pc of respondents feel it will have a greater impact than smart cards, 34pc believe its impact will be greater than camera phones and 42pc reckon it will surpass loyalty cards.

More than 2,000 consumers in the UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands were polled for the survey that also finds that consumers are beginning to see the potential benefits of RFID. The majority of respondents said they would buy RFID-enabled products if they meant potentially reducing car theft (70pc of those surveyed), faster recovery of stolen items (68pc) and improved security of prescription drugs (63pc). Additional benefits of RFID identified as important to consumers include improved food safety and quality, faster, more reliable notification of recalls, and faster exit through supermarket checkouts.

At the same time the study revealed a certain degree of ignorance about the technology. For example over half of the respondents incorrectly thought that tags can be read from a distance and only 18pc of those polled had even heard of RFID. Yet among those who are familiar with the technology, most either view it favourably or do not yet have an opinion.

Commenting on the survey, Ard Jan Vethman, principal consultant and RFID leader for Capgemini’s global manufacturing, retail and distribution sector, was optimistic that RFID would eventually win over consumers but educational efforts would be needed first.

“Acceptance of new technologies always has a tipping point at which consumers believe that benefits outweigh concerns. With the right RFID approach and ongoing communication with consumers, the industry can reach this point,” he said. “This is good news for retailers and manufacturers operating in the consumer goods industry who are looking forward to rolling out RFID technology. However, our research also shows that there is still work to be done to inform consumers about the benefits of RFID, given that many people have not yet formed strong opinions about the technology but are interested in learning more.”

Vethman continued: “The time is right for companies to define their strategy and business rationale for RFID adoption. In parallel with this strategic planning process, organisations need to consider taking action to educate consumers about their plans. For businesses, it’s critical to recognise and emphasise the benefits that matter most to consumers in order to realise the greatest return on their RFID investments.”

He suggested that the education process should include four main elements: include consumers in the RFID debate; begin to communicate with consumers about RFID sooner rather than later and in a jargon-free manner; address consumers’ concerns with facts regarding costs and prices as well as privacy, environmental and health issues; take it slow but don’t take too long to get started.

By Brian Skelly