Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What's In Store for RFID?

It's been a tough month for RFID advocates. Hot on the heels of the revelation at the RSA show that
RFID chips can be eavesdropped with a modified cell-phone... the FDA sent a message to the industry that it was disappointed with the slow progress of RFID trials. Many industry observers have been saying that the FDA is unrealistic about the cost and complexity imposed by RFID. Pfizer's Tom McPhillips, vice president, U.S. trade group was at the FDA meeting. He said, “It would be possible to implement RFID tagging for higher risk products in three to five years. It would take several years beyond that before all drugs could get tags.” That makes 6-9 years at least from now before unit level tagging of pharmaceuticals is widespread. The problems facing RFID are not insurmountable - but they are fearsome, and include:
  • cost of tags, readers, infrastructure and systems integration
  • consumer privacy fears and backlash
  • lack of security in low cost chips
  • lack of standards (tags, China)
  • reliability and physical robustness
The latest threat is that the RFID tag could potentially carry a virus, that could infect a database. Although this scenario is unlikely, it's one more battle the RFID boosters have to fight.

Scott Gottlieb MD,
Deputy Commissioner for Medical and Scientific Affairs, in a recent speech to the PDA, emphasized his enthusiasm about RFID, but reiterated that there are other technologies, such as 2D barcodes, that can be used for product authentication. Indeed, manufacturers may gain much of the benefit, and a lot of the learning, about unit-level coding and authentication from solutions that don't suffer from some of the technical challenges facing RFID. At the very least, these technologies will provide the bridge for the next 6-10 years until RFID is ready and the kinks have been ironed out.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Mixed Messages
A recent article in the "Stars and Stripes" helps US military personnel find the best counterfeit goods in the Czech Republic, including how much to expect to pay for a carton of fake Malboros (20 euros). The irony of this (beyond the fact that the manufacture and sale of fake cigarettes and apparel are known to be associated with terrorism and organized crime) is that the article was published the same week that the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 32. The “Stop Counterfeiting in Manufactured Goods Act”.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

How To Spot a Fake Memory Card

WCCO-TV Minnesota ran a story today on
counterfeit electronics products in the US. Their advice on how to avoid buying a fake:
  1. If it's a bargain - be suspicious. (However, fakes aren't always cheap.)
  2. Buy from reputable outlets. (But even retailers are fooled.)
  3. Take a close look at the physical characteristics of the product, including the wording on the label, the size, shape and color. (This, of course, presumes you know what to look for.)

These steps alone are clearly not enough. Secure coding provides a better solution, as the reporter says:

A number of companies are adding ... serial numbers to their products, so consumers can make sure their products are real by calling the company or using a Web site.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Which Products Are Being Counterfeited?

It is a common misperception - particularly in developed markets - that only luxury goods get counterfeited. Everyone knows that the "LV" handbag at the market stall, the "Chanel" perfume on Canal St., and the $1 DVD are counterfeit (we presume). But, few consumers would stop to question whether their Nescafe instant coffee is counterfeit. Or what about soy sauce? Tea bags? Creamer? Cough drops? Shampoo? Household detergent?

The list in fact covers pretty much every brand name consumer good. The question isn't so much "which products are being counterfeited" ... " which products aren't?"