Do You Want RFID in Your Mobile Phone?

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Last updated on July 23, 2019 Comments: 2

Håkan Djuphammar, VP of Systems Architecture for Ericsson, made a prediction recently that all new mobile phones sold after Summer 2010 would have two-way RFID chips in them that would allow them to act as a tag or a reader.

If what you just read sounds like technobabble, watch this short news excerpt to get up to speed. Even if you’re not interested in technology, you should learn about the possibilities and the dangers of RFID:

Back to the mobile phone: yes, it would be perfectly easy for all mobile phones on the planet to have an RFID tag/scanner in them. The possibilities for making use of RFID, like the numbering scheme itself, are practically endless. People in Asia use their mobile phones to buy drinks from vending machines all the time, and according to Djuphammar:

the chip might also be used by credit card companies to track the location of cardholders to cut down on fraud.

This was followed up on the Wired Magazine article about this story with a great user comment:

So, the myriad of privacy concerns aside, does this mean I won’t be able to use my credit card if I leave my phone at home?

RFID doesn’t inherently scare me. I already use one in the keyfob for my car when unlocking the door and starting the engine. It raises ethical concerns, and I think we should plan our next moves carefully. We don’t have a great history of moving carefully forward (people still drive without seatbelts all the time), which is one of the reasons I’m hoping you’ll educate yourself and your friends about this starting today.

If you have the means and the time, I highly recommend the book Everyware: the dawning age of ubiquitous computing, which not only details many possibilities for taking advantage of RFID, it also contains a great starting point for a positively ethical “post-PC” future (including some really neat new icons).

RFID-Enabled Phones Could Let Credit Card Companies Track Users, Kim Zetter, Wired Magazine, June 25, 2009

Article comments

Anonymous says:


Anonymous says:

There is some concern here, but not the fear that is spread pretty thick on the video. But then, fear sells; and they are selling a book, even if it’s only 6.00 on amazon.

Long-range RFID chips on the market have a range of 450 feet, however, passive tags would have to be used on the shoe rfid, unless the company broke into your house and ripped your shoe apart to change the rfid’s battery when needed. Passive rfid chips get their power from the antenna, and have shorter ranges; somewhere on the order of 40 feet. In New York, the average city block is about 264 feet or 20 blocks per mile. The government or tracking company would have to place 6.5 antennas on every street. According to Columbia University, there are 6,374 miles of street in New York City, so ~828,000 antennas would have to be purchased and installed. Most commercial rfid antennas go for $200 up, but let’s say the government/company could get a huge discount and pay only $50. That’s $41M to cover one city, labor to install would make it ~$60M. Then maintenance and power supply would push the cost to far greater heights than the tracking would be worth to any company. And that’s just New York.

With a rumored 3.75 million miles of road in America, so ~487.5M antennas would need to be produced and installed. With my assumptions above, to implement this kind of technology across America would cost an extraordinary amount of money: think trillions of dollars when you count in maintenance and power supply. And this is just the antennas. While the id tags themselves only cost about $.07, that’s another $21.5M to have one chip per U.S. citizen. Now, they’d probably want 2-5 chips, so that plus the cost to install said chips into products could easily reach a billion dollars+. Then there’s the army of people, and who knows how many computer centers to be built and maintained and powered to actually turn the tracking into usable data. You get the drift. There are far easier ways of tracking people.

Many cell phones have GPS systems built in to them, so they are already trackable and in some cases, being tracked (usually with a warrant.)

On the bright side, if rfid is implemented everywhere, it has a great vulnerability-it uses radio frequencies. So a quarter-sized rf jammer would quickly show up on the market, much like radar detectors/jammers for cars today. If the government goes to far, or won’t stop a company from going to far, the market will step up to take care of the right to privacy given to us by the Supreme Court.