By on August 25, 2010

Does a passport with an RFID chip freak you out? Not if you don’t carry your passport on you. How about RFID-equipped drivers’ licenses? Well, stick the license in a shield and nobody will be the wiser. Never heard of RFID? It’s a chip that needs no power. It sends out a number that identifies you. Think of a barcode on your forehead. How about RFID equipped cars?

Some car manufacturers have quietly equipped cars with RFID chips. I’m not at liberty to disclose their identity, but I can tell you that they know your name as you pull up in front of the dealership’s shop. Car keys with RFID are also becoming en vogue. That’s how the keyless system can open the car for you as you walk up to it. Now, Ford Europe officially embeds RFID chips in their cars.

2000 RFID-equipped Fiesta and Fusion cars leave Ford Cologne per day. The data are used for a benign purpose: To optimize the delivery process. According to Automobilwoche [sub], RFID-equipped cars are delivered 15 percent faster. Erroneous shipments have been practically eliminated. Ford will introduce this system in all of its European plants, and therefore in all of its European cars. “Other uses” of the chip are being researched. With an RFID chip in every car, complicated cameras will no longer be needed. Your number will show up using an inconspicuous reader.

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40 Comments on “Ford Reveals Your Identity...”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Tinfoil hats on in 3… 2… 1…

    Although I will say my still all time favorite bumper-sticker (living in the desert Southwest) says “Sure you can trust the government, just ask any Indian.” (Although I guess I can say to the distrustful they should replace government with corporation.

  • avatar

    RFID has some much potential, but it is so insecure its scary. While a relative few criminals will use this to steal identities, the potential for government tracking of citizens is to Orwellian for me.

    • 0 avatar

      The real bonus for RFID isn’t for government, it’s for marketing. Being able to build a profile on your real-life movements as easily as they do for your web browsing behaviour is incredibly valuable to advertisers.

      They know what shops you go to, how long you’re there, what shelves you stopped at (think RFID i n grocery aisles), what bank you use, how much you spend, where you buy gas, what route you take, what radio stations or TV you listen to, etc. It allows them to deliver highly targeted marketing to you and refine their offerings to an incredible degree. The financial incentive far exceeds any benefit governments could derive.

      Granted, they get some of this now from purchase history via credit/debit, but RFID promises to be able to track not just what you buy, but where and what you do when you’re not buying.

      Think Minority Report, only with RFID instead of eyeball scanners and you get the idea.

  • avatar

    While I can see RFID potentially being dangerous, it is no more so than any other technology out there that we let ourselves be tracked with.

    If the government really wants to know where you are, you already have a GPS chip in almost every new cell phone, a GPS locator if you have navigation in your car, a RFID chip if you have an ‘EZ-Pass’ ‘SunPass’ or any of those other quick-toll things, something very RFID-like in your TPMS sensors, RFID chips in your Mobil paywand or your credit card that lets you just wave it over the sensor instead of swiping it, and I’m probably forgetting some common scanable data chips that we carry around with us on a daily basis.

  • avatar

    Never heard of RFID? It’s a chip that needs no power. It sends out a number that identifies you. Think of a barcode on your forehead.

    Oh, FFS. There are real concerns with tracking tech like this, but you’re not doing anyone a favor by distorting things so wildly. RFID doesn’t identify you; it identifies itself. And it needs power; it has to get that power remotely via RF, and over a fairly restricted distance.

    Your writing implies some kind of space transponder thing beaming your personal information to all and sundry, when really it’s essentially a machine-readable label saying something like, “0x857EB42C3A”.

    If Ford has an RFID chip on an engine block, it’s not going to tell the police where to find you when you go 55 in a 54. It’s not going to “Reveal your identity”, since it didn’t know your identity when it got put in in the first place.

    They’re stickers, people. They’re stickers that you can read with a bit of wireless kit, but you can only get out what’s written on them, you can’t put anything else on them, you can only do it from a certain distance, and the sticker can be covered up or peeled off if you really want it to be.

    Your cars all have VINs as it is, and those are vastly more powerful in terms of the potential for tracking individuals – they’re just more cumbersome.

    If you want to be alarmed, be alarmed by the lack of policies on how databases using these devices are set up, administered, and how data is shared. Be alarmed by the government having the goal of tracking vehicles in a consistent way and storing the data.

    But don’t focus on the technology used to achieve those ends. Speed cameras wouldn’t be possible without high quality CCDs, but talking about how CCDs will enable tracking and must be stopped would be a waste of breath – as well as diverting attention from the real issue.

    RFID is a nice hotbutton, but it’s really pretty mundane stuff. If you want to protect the rights of motorists, find the people thinking up ways to USE RFID BADLY rather than saying, “OMG, here’s some RFID! Ford is tracking…. your crank shaft! Big brother is coming!”

    • 0 avatar

      A barcode also is only “identifying itself”. A MAC number is only “identifying itself”. A SSN is only “identifying itself.” A telephone number is only “identifying itself.” All you need to do is put a name next to that number, and you are done. Once you have these numbers that can “identify themselves” you can be pretty sure that the database follows. Without the database, they are useless.

    • 0 avatar

      Great post, thanks. RFID has been around for quite a while, so I’m shocked they’re just now adding to to cars. It’s been a popular (albeit expensive) part of inventory management for probably close to 15 years.

      Walmart was experimenting heavily with them a few years ago, but I’m not sure where they stand now…and despite their “evil corporation” status in many people’s minds, they were only using it to determine adequate stock levels, alter shelving plans, etc.

      It’s just a fancier version of the barcode.

    • 0 avatar

      One point about RFID that does make it a privacy concern is that it’s easy to associate RFID tags with people and/or people’s things and build fairly comprehensive tables of how and where those tags appear.

      Considering that little legislation exists to protect citizens against this kind of collection and correlation by non-governmental entities, I would be concerned about how it’s used.

    • 0 avatar

      RFID tags may simply identify themselves, but cross referencing a specific tag to a specific card (and person) isn’t rocket science.

      I think that most people who use the internet have made it quite clear through the use of spam and pop up blockers how they feel about unwanted advertising. Hard to believe you’re arguing this point.

    • 0 avatar

      Wal-Mart is still experimenting with RFID, most recently on clothing tags. Makes restocking easier even if the store is a mess – a hand held scanner can see what sizes are missing off the shelf.

    • 0 avatar

      Just wait til he figures out that those license plates on his car have a unique string of characters that can be traced — ZOMG!!!!!1111onez itz bIg bRoTheR out to GIT USSS!

  • avatar

    Just wrap your RFID tagged passport or license in tin foil — problem solved.


    • 0 avatar

      I’ll go one better. If I ever have an ID card with an RFID in it the first place it goes is a microwave for 3 seconds. Fry the chip and save money on Tinfoil.

    • 0 avatar

      Uh, yeah. I think driving around with my car wrapped in tinfoil will likely draw unwanted attention and won’t be terribly practical. And I don’t know what you guys are driving (or cooking with) but my car won’t fit into my microwave.

  • avatar

    “I’m a hacker with an obligatory ponytail”

  • avatar

    Break out the tin foil hats

  • avatar

    The RFID tag is no more harmful than the VIN of your car. Yes, it could be used to track the vehicle but so can your cell phone and a lot of road side assist gadgets.

    I don’t think there is any need to join a militia or take up the Ted Kaczinski manifesto just yet.

    • 0 avatar

      The issue with RFID chips is that they’re really easy to read by anyone, anytime, anywhere: they don’t require physical inspection (like a VIN) or a proprietary tool (like a phone).

      So let’s say your car has a RFID chip. Anyone with a scanner can track where your vehicle goes. Not just the phone company or the toll operator: anyone. They can then sell that information to data aggregators who can associate that vehicle RFID with your personal information, as well as the movement of any other RFIDs you might have. This in turn gets sold to data miners and marketers and who-knows-who-else. Suddenly there’s quite a detailed profile on your movements available to anyone who is willing to pay for it, for good or ill.

      Do you really want your life easily available to anyone and anyone for microexamination? Are you sure you don’t have patterns in your behaviour that might be misconstrued if made publicly available to every marketeer and curtain-twitcher? Because what RFID enables.

      I seriously don’t know why people get so bent out of shape about the government doing this sort of thing but give corporations a free pass.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m in the not so scary camp. Sure your car can be identified, but only if the scanner is within 40 feet of the car. There are scanners that can read license plates farther away than that. As others have mentioned, the RFID chip can be removed or covered up.

    • 0 avatar

      @psarhjinian :
      the only way “anyone with a scanner” can track where you go is by _being_ everywhere/anywhere you go. there isn’t a vast network of RFID scanners out there (of any kind AFAIK, let alone an open network which evil doers could access) which is reporting back on your whereabouts. it would seem muuuuuuuch easier to hack the cell phone network and use that to track someone. the police (with warrants of course) can do that now.

      OP is complete red herring/scare-mongering.

      here in the US (and one expects elsewhere too, if law enforcement want to spend for it) license plate recognition systems can scan & identify thousands of vehicles/hour. putting such systems in place rather than on mobile units would allow realtime tracking of a car’s movements. oh wait, CCTV cameras already allow this all over the place as it is.

      move along, nothing to see here.

    • 0 avatar

      The point people are missing is that RFID is on the cusp of becoming ubiquitous: a few years ago you’d only have seen it in warehouses full of high-value goods where now it shows up on nearly everything. The price of scanners has dropped through the floor, and the tags are practically free.

      Give it another five years and you will see scanners everywhere.

      It’s also a lot more accurate and trouble-free than plate photography or trying to pull the Bluetooth or WiFi MAC of a device. It’s quick, simple, totally insecure and can process a huge volume of transactions very quickly. The methods for tracking and aggregating tags already exists; it’s exactly the same process used by web-advertisers to mine your cookies and bug your pages to better target ads. I would not be surprised in the least to see Google/DoubleClick get into this business in the coming years.

      I’m a little surprised I’m coming down on this issue this way, but I’m more surprised that people who would be up in arms about photo radar being a slippery slope don’t see the even slipperier slope developing here.

    • 0 avatar

      “I seriously don’t know why people get so bent out of shape about the government doing this sort of thing but give corporations a free pass.”

      There is one big difference between corporations and governments. Governments have the legal authority to use force (either police or military) to get their way. A corporation may use force, but it’s either illegal or with either the consent of or hand in hand with the government.

      While I don’t trust either big business or big government, I can resist and fight back against big business a lot easier.

    • 0 avatar

      “…While I don’t trust either big business or big government, I can resist and fight back against big business a lot easier…”

      I wouldn’t be so sure of that. While I find the idea of the government tracking me reprehensible, the thought of some corporation snooping on me to bilk me, well I find just that just as sleazy. Back in the day data was tracked on toll roads by the punch cards; the only thing different about an Ezpass system is that an individual is assigned to that data without their consent. I don’t mind the tracking of anonymous data as that can be truly useful. But I do disapprove of having individuals assigned to that data. There is nothing scientific to be gained by spying. The government really doesn’t care about my coming and going. But corporate America does because they want to profit from poking their nose into my life.

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    “I’m not at liberty to disclose their identity, but I can tell you that they know your name as you pull up in front of the dealership’s shop”

    I can tell you that they know my name as I walk into the coffee shop. I’m not at liberty to disclose exactly how this happens, but I can say that it involves a very sophisticated facial recognition algorithm implanted into the mind of the barista.

  • avatar

    I agree with all those who point out that it is the association between the RFID self-identifier and your own person-identifiable data that is of concern.

    RFIDs differ from most other “Orwellian” technologies in that the user/carrier cannot turn them off.

  • avatar
    George B

    I designed RFID toll tag readers in a prior job. Since cars already have unique license plates, RFID only makes it easier to identify the car at close range when you’re at an angle where the license plate isn’t visible. People with reasonable eyesight and memory can identify me by the appearance of my car, acknowledging recognition by waving.

    I’d be more concerned about the ability of RFID to work through clothing and potentially read my keys or future credit cards and driver’s license from a few feet away. My cell phone currently functions as a long-range tracking device. I turn off the GPS receiver, but my phone service provider inherently needs to know approximately where I am to deliver phone calls to me. Giving up privacy to get convenience.

  • avatar

    Oh dear! I just had a revelation.

    The “Cash For Clunkers” program was nothing more than a conspiracy of government and industry to force people to relinquish older cars WITHOUT this tracking technology for new cars WITH it.

    Those basterds!

  • avatar

    You can pull MAC addresses off of bluetooth devices as well. Even if they’re not set to discoverable, there is a technique you can use to pull the MAC number. Get into a bluetooth device and you can have all kinds of fun. Go ahead and carry your license in tinfoil. That little trick won’t work well with your cell phone.

  • avatar

    Title is very misleading Ford isn’t revealing your identity. RFID requires readers where they get scanned. So you just about have to be everywhere to know where something is. Also, you would need access to a database that has information about who the car was sold to. After that, you would need access to a database to see if that person is still the current owner. With out access to these databases, none of this is relevant.

    Cars also have license plates. Cameras can identify the letters off of them. Same idea, and it is on every car today.

  • avatar

    Slightly related fun-fact: you can set off Mobil speed-pass readers with Ford PATS keys, and most modern Toyota + Honda keys. I’ve never seen a key that had the same signal as an account though.

  • avatar

    The otherwise excellent TV show “mythbusters” got burnt with RFID. They wanted to do a typical show on this topic but major sponsors Visa/MC shut them down on this topic.

    I don’t normally wear foil headwear, but when the big guys move on this topic, there must be a reason.

  • avatar

    Seems about the same as using EZ-Pass on the Turnpike, or a credit card at the grocery store. If you don’t want to be identified electronically, use cash.

    The ‘inconspicuous reader’ has to be pretty close to work, and the party collecting the information needs a profitable and legal way of utilizing it. This story is about tagging VINs from cars for inventory management purposes. If they’re handled like clothing tags, the car’s RFID tag may be discarded upon first sale of the vehicle, and no owner’s name associated with it. Perhaps US deployment will require such a usage mode.

  • avatar

    It’s not as if the NSA would wiretap and record every bit of audio, video, and data transmitted electronically that they can get. Domestically. Without any warrants.

    Oh wait. They already do.

    “Carnivore” was a small kid on a ladder, with his ear to your wall.

    The current NarusInsight monitors everything. Simply everything. 10+ petabytes per month.

    Minority Report? Coming soon. Narus’ next-gen stuff is associative and attempts to be predictive.

    So, if you have shopping habits that coincide with a killer/terrorist/non-conformist, ‘they’ will be watching you.

    Better yet, your data will be Kevin Baconed. That is, better hope that you don’t go to the same Starbucks as your local coke dealer does. Or eat at the same Ethiopian restaurant that somebody on some terror watch list does.

    Orwell was right. He was just a bit off on the date.

  • avatar

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t be aware of all of this but I subscribe to Larry Ellison’s maxium “You have zero privacy – get used to it!” This is, after all, the twentyfirst century. We are supposed to have flying cars by now according to my grandfather’s Popular Science magazine.

  • avatar

    My brothers and sisters in the computer industry will be able to defeat it, dont worry. Even if they embed it in the fender, the exhaust system or the on board computer, any chip is either removable or able to be disabled. Or perhaps collect and send false information? Could be intresting, a false itinerary on a small thumb drive, plug it into the USB port on the dash. I aleaady have an entire fake network ready to run on a 16bg thumb. Should not be too hard to get around this one.

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