RFID Innovation In Japan A Harbinger Of Things To Come

Most online marketers don’t give a lot of thought to the potential for RFID. I wrote about RFID a year ago to demonstrate that its usage is growing here in the U.S. in areas that impact marketing. Among some of the more novel applications I referenced were a ski resort’s use of RFID tags in their season passes and lift tickets to connect customers with a social gaming application, and an ice cream shop that employs “RFID flavor tags” to inform customers in real-time when the shop is serving up their favorite flavor.

Last year, over 2.3 billion RFID tags were sold worldwide, reports market research firm IDTechEx.

The area of largest growth was the use of passive UHF (Ultra High Frequency) tags. The primary application of UHF tags is apparel tagging, pushed along by Walmart, who initiated a massive program with clothing suppliers about a year ago. IDTechEx said the entire RFID market, which includes tags, readers, software and services, was over $5.5 billion in 2010.

Apparel tagging may seem mundane, but it has sparked a bit of a controversy. Intended as a means of inventory control, some industry observers have expressed concern over the ability of a retailer like Walmart to actually connect an item of clothing to a particular consumer who’s buying it. According to a Wall Street Journal article that reported on Walmart’s program:

“While the tags can be removed from clothing and packaged, they can’t be turned off, and they are trackable. Some privacy advocates hypothesize that unscrupulous marketers or criminals will be able to drive by consumers’ homes and scan their garbage to discover what they have recently bought.”

But let’s put aside this paranoid perspective and deal with a recently reported usage of RFID technology that has the potential to save lives.

Next year, Asahi Kasei, a Japanese technology conglomerate, will bring a device to market that will allow emergency responders to access vital health information from a patient’s smartphone or PC. The $25 device can be tapped against the patient’s phone to instantly retrieve such information as blood type, allergies, and medical conditions. It employs RFID via Sony’s FeliCa contactless IC card technology.

MIT’s Technology Review points out that this device has the potential to succeed where Google Health failed. Google Health allowed users to upload and analyze their health data (known in the health industry as a PHR, or Personal Health Record), but Google announced in late June that it would discontinue the service. Industry statistics suggest only 7 percent of residents use a PHR.

The idea of storing a PHR in a smartphone or PC, rather than online, might be something more palatable to Americans, whose answer to emergency data has been to wear it on their wrists (think “MedicAlert” bracelets). The new device, however, will initially be available only in Japan, where smartphones are more advanced and FeliCa technology is pervasive. In the U.S., our experience with this technology has been limited to such things as MasterCard PayPass, which allows users to “tap and pay” at specially enabled devices.

But technological innovations that start in Japan often make their way to the U.S. market eventually, so we could see this life-saving technology here some day. If nothing else, knowing what is possible with RFID presents a new and exciting market for mobile applications that we haven’t yet tapped.

About Barry Silverstein

Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer/marketing consultant. In addition to writing for ReveNews, he is a contributing writer to Brandchannel.com, the world’s leading online branding forum. He is the author of three marketing books, The Breakaway Brand (co-author, McGraw-Hill, 2005), Business-to-Business Internet Marketing (Maximum Press, 2003) and Internet Marketing for Technology Companies (Maximum Press, 2003). Barry ran his own Internet and direct marketing agency for twenty years. You can find Barry on Twitter @bdsilv.

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  • Anonymous

    Of course we can be tracked. There are so many ways in which we can be tracked like cell phones, laptops, computers that I really don’t understand why people are making such a fuss about RFID. Let’s face it, if someone wants to find out what you have purchased they can simply pay someone to hack your online bank account and view all of your recent transactions and please don’t tell me that online bank accounts are ‘hack-proof’. These days nothing is hack proof and nothing is untraceable. I remember some years ago when my friend Yury Mintskovsky told me we will eventually reach the days in which we will be completely traceable I said that would not happen. And look at us now, we are actually telling the entire online community where we are using Four Square, Facebook, Google Latitude and so on. So as I said it’s so easy for anyone to find out everything about everyone that using a RFID detector near our trash bins is not even close the easiest way.