Privacy-enabled RFID labels for product tracking


July 12, 2006

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July 13, 2006 IBM and Marnlen RFiD are collaborating on enabling consumer privacy protection for RFID tags -- the potential production of smart radio frequency identification (RFID) labels using IBM Research's Clipped Tag privacy technology. Clipped Tag technology allows consumers to tear off a section of the tag which in turn reduces the tag's read range to just a few inches, protecting consumer privacy while maintaining the benefits of the technology, such as product authentication or recalls. The Clipped Tag puts privacy protection into the hands of the consumer as it gives the consumer a visual confirmation of the tag's modification.

As the implementation of RFID tagging of pallets and cases for the retail supply chain proceeds, attention is being given to the possibility of RFID tagging for individual retail items. The sale of tagged retail goods gives rise to measures to enhance consumer privacy. Ultra-high frequency tags may be read by wireless means of distances up to around 30 feet (10 meters). High frequency tags also may be read wirelessly, but generally at a shorter range.

Mechanisms have been proposed to address enhanced consumer privacy upon the introduction of item-level tagging. One of them is the use of “Blocker Tags” proposed by RSA Laboratories, a security and privacy organization. These tags interfere with the reading of other RFID tags. They must be carried by the consumer. Another mechanism is the EPCglobal Gen2 protocol “Kill” command which deactivates tags permanently. The Kill command is executed by the retailer at the point-of-sale. Killed tags cannot be revived.

The privacy-protecting tag, called the “Clipped Tag” has been suggested by IBM as an additional consumer privacy mechanism. The clipped tag puts the option of privacy protection in the hands of the consumer. It provides a visible means of enhancing privacy protection by allowing the transformation of a long-range tag into a proximity tag that still may be read, but only at short range – less than a few inches or centimeters. This enables later use of the tag for returns or recalls.

IBM and the Toronto-based Marnlen RFiD have agreed to explore the future use of the Clipped Tag technology for radio frequency tagging labels. Marnlen manufactures custom and standard flexible RFID labels at its production line in Markham, Ontario where its new high-speed RFID label converting equipment is in production. Labels containing RFID tags are being used in a wide range of industries to streamline shipping and inventory systems, track valuable parts and equipment and to authenticate products.

Although most radio-frequency tagging is being used at the case and pallet level in warehouses and manufacturing sites, some companies are starting to use the technology on single items. An example of this is in the pharmaceutical industry, where RFID tags can help protect consumers from counterfeit drugs.

Today's announcement is the next step toward future deployment of the tags through the collaboration of IBM Research labs and Marnlen. The IBM Clipped Tag is a technology lauded by industry and consumer protection organizations as a simple, practical way to address privacy concerns. Paul Moskowitz, IBM Research, said, "The Clipped Tag puts privacy protection into the hands of the consumer. It gives the consumer a visual confirmation of the tags' modification."

"IBM's Clipped Tag concept is a highly efficient and elegant way to promote the benefits of RFID while protecting privacy," said Andris Lauris, Vice President Business Development, Marnlen Management Ltd. "We're excited to be the first company in our industry to make the concept a reality."

About the Author
Mike Hanlon Mike grew up thinking he would become a mathematician, accidentally started motorcycle racing, got a job writing road tests for a motorcycle magazine while at university, and became a writer. As a travelling photojournalist during his early career, his work was published in a dozen languages across 20+ countries. He went on to edit or manage over 50 print publications, with target audiences ranging from pensioners to plumbers, many different sports, many car and motorcycle magazines, with many more in the fields of communication - narrow subject magazines on topics such as advertising, marketing, visual communications, design, presentation and direct marketing. Then came the internet and Mike managed internet projects for Australia's largest multimedia company, (Australia's largest Telco), (Australia's largest employment site),,, and a dozen other internet start-ups before founding Gizmag in 2002. Now he writes and thinks. All articles by Mike Hanlon
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