Ethics Exercises

Some analysts predict that bar codes may soon be replaced by a wireless technology called radio-frequency identification (RFID), a system of installing tags containing tiny computer chips on, say, supermarket items. Privacy advocates think the chips provide too much product-preference information that might be identified with individual consumers. In the meantime, Wal-Mart is asking its top suppliers to begin using the new technology on products stocked by the giant retailer.

  1. Do you think RFID poses a threat to consumer privacy? Explain.

I do think that RFID pose a threat to consumer privacy. With RFID technology, a company would know exactly what product a person is possessing. RFID is extremely cheap, therefore, there is a possibility that we are going to witness its presence in billions if it is implemented on a large scale (Juels, 2006). The RFID tag on each product would be readable by a scanner that acts as a receptor to it. RFID is totally different from the traditional tags with products. The traditional tags need to be exposed in front of an infrared scanner in order to be read. RFID on the other hand is equipped with radio technology that works like a signal transmitter. So for example I have product with an RFID, the company might be able to trace it and know exactly how long I used a product, where I keep it, where do I take it with me and so on. I believe this is a grave violation of a person’s privacy. Not only this, the product that I buy can also be tagged with my name when I buy it and me, as an individual can also be traced with it. The companies do promise that they would not violate their consumer’s privacy and would use the information anonymously but who can trust them?

Some libraries are already using RFID to trace their books. What this means for us, as the people of who loan these books is a greater exposure of our privacy. The libraries can trace where the book is kept and hence trace where the person is. They can also trace groups who read specific type of books. Law enforcement agencies can use this data to wrongly accuse people with negative intentions just for reading specific types of books and can label groups to have antisocial behaviors.

There are also concerns about the implementation of tagging employees with RFID to know their ware about if the company/agency is dealing with security issues and wants to ensure their employees are not playing in the wrong hands. These companies/agencies might implant RFIDs to the bodies of their employees (Lane & Frederick, 2003).

  1. Do you think the technology’s possible benefits to marketers outweigh the potential privacy concerns? Explain if you believe that there also potential benefits to consumers.

I believe that we are far from deciding if the use of RFID is completely wrong. The technology is just in its infancy at the moment. Deciding its fate may be unfair at the moment. There are benefits for marketers that could be considered to outweigh the potential privacy concern. For example marketers would be able to trace the accurate details about the use of a product by its consumers. Like RFID can be used to keep trace of the total expenditure a consumer does. It can provide information about the purchasing and consumption behavior of consumers. But what is a startling point for markets is the mistrust the customers still have about the use of RFID. In a research conducted in London, participants were given product with RFID installed in it (Roussos & Moussouri, 2004). The results of the study suggested that the participants did not like the fact that their purchasing behavior was observed by the owners of the products. Participants felt doubtful of the use of the data collected from their daily activities.

It is obvious that marketers want to maximize the sale of a product they are marketing. Can they be able to maximize their sales if their consumers do not trust them? I don’t think so. Therefore, I come to the conclusion that marketers might use the technology but they have to first do extensive research on the response they should expect from their customers who will be using their products. The marketers are legally and ethically bound to tell their customers that they are using RFID technology. How they deal with the consumers concerns about their privacy is an issue of great importance for the marketers.

  1. How can marketers reassure consumers about privacy concerns if RFID comes into widespread use?

As I said earlier that the RFID technology is still in its infancy. The marketers would need to wait for the right time when consumers are familiarized with the technology and their concerns are cleared. What marketers can do in this regards is of utmost importance. There has to be a starting point for anything to reach maturity. In case of the use of RFID, I think that the first step should be the drafting of the guidelines by the marketers for the use of the RFID itself and the use of data that is acquired with its help. Marketers should focus on identifying the exact variables that they would use in their marketing research and marketing plans. They should also be able to tell their consumers how data related to these variable is collected using RFID. I think that the consumers should have a choice to buy a product with an RFID or without it in the initial stages before its use I widely in practice. The guidelines I am talking about can act as desensitizing factors for the consumers to be more willing to trust the use of products with an RFID installed in it.

The marketers can also present the usefulness of RFIDs to the consumers. What if there is golf ball that has an RFID installed in it? I don’t think so that the owner would be ever lose such a ball. Also RFIDs installed inside guns can help in protecting against gun crimes as each gun would become traceable. Use of RFID can help consumers keep track of how much they spend and where do they spend. This can help consumers understand their spending habits and make improvements to it.