Rachel Shabi in The Guardian’s Saturday magazine has got herself all worked up about loyalty cards and RFID tags. She’s probably right to worry. In the advanced economies we’re consumers first, citizens second. We interact with retailers more than with any other institution. What they do with our data is important but they’re unaccountable and secretive.
Their increasingly privileged access to personal information implies a matching obligation to increase transparency and choice – they’ll need to behave a bit more like civic entities and offer the kind of guarantees we expect from them. The bargains we strike with retailers – coupons for data, for instance – will need to be more explicit, opt-outs easier, tracking chips properly labeled and removable, personal profiles accessible.
As an entrepreneur, of course, I see all this as an opportunity, not an obstacle to the unhindered operation of the free market. Since corporations cannot and should not expect to operate entirely without restraint, they should respect the ecology within which they live and develop commercial responses to a society’s constraints.
I wonder if there’s any mileage in third party ‘kill switches’ for RFID tags – a booth in the shopping mall where you can get your RFID tags switched off before they start broadcasting your movements and shopping habits? Would I pay 50p to neutralise all the tags in my shopping? No. Probably not.