Big Business is Watching You

There’s a fascinating post over at In Reference to Murder by BV Lawson (rhymes with awesome) that could give you utopian / dystopian whiplash. She reports on two events, one which highlighted the Open Library which Tim Spalding predicts will replace Amazon in time. I can certainly live with that! But she also reports on a session at another conference on RFID – Radio Frequency ID tags – being used to keep tabs on where books are and which are being picked up in bookstores.

RFID can illuminate customers’ behavior. It can show how they flow through the store, where they stop, what they pick up, which area sells the most, how these things change during the year. As a result, booksellers can design stores “for the way customers behave, not the way you think they behave,” according to Jim Lichtenberg, president of Lightspeed consulting. [Can’t you seem some jokester carrying around a copy of War and Peace for an hour, only to put it back before they leave, stopping in-between at the sections on Cookbooks, Computers, and Graphic Novels just to give the trackers a little nyah-nyah fun?]

Critics are wary of the privacy issues involved, although proponents counter this by saying that in the book world tags contain a minimal amount of data and don’t record any personal information, such as who has purchased a book or where the book goes. Hmmm. Haven’t we heard this before?

Pro or con, it may just be a matter of time before it comes to pass. In March or April there will be a big meeting of people in the book business in the U.S. to discuss how to do an RFID pilot that would take place as soon as early 2009, according to insiders.

So, what do you think—is RFID merely another tool to help the publishing industry or one more stone in the pathway heading toward the Big Brother society of tomorrow?

You probably can guess what I think. Please, God, nooooooooo!

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