Busted: Bankers and The Global Economy

March 25, 2007

American Express Plans RFID for Marketing

Filed under: banking, government, money, RFID, security — Tags: , , , , , , , , — digitaleconomy @ 4:03 pm

U.S. Patent Application #20050038718 details the use of RFID readers that American Express calls “consumer trackers” to closely watch people in stores. The idea is that RFID-embedded objects carried by the shopper would emit a “consumer identification signal” when queried by consumer tracker devices in the environment. Businesses would pick up this signal and use it to identify shoppers, track their movements, and observe their behavior.

U.S. Patent & Trademark Office File

Here are the main features of the patent for the tracking system:

“…consumer interface [configured to…provide a consumer identity signal to a radio frequency identification reader via a radio frequency signal] may also collect and transmit time and location information regarding the path traversed by consumer within the merchant’s facility. Such information may be acquired by consumer trackers situated at specific locations throughout the merchant’s facility…” [Section 0212; Bracketed information from Section 16]

“…different aisles and/or checkpoints throughout the stores may be equipped with RFID readers to facilitate tracking the shopper’s performance….By facilitating the shopping experience, the shopping identifier may be used to track a shopper…” [Section 0195]

“For example, in a hardware store, a fob [an RFID-tagged item carried by the customer] may be used in conjunction with RFID readers at the beginning and end of each aisle. Thus, when a shopper passes RFID reader, a performance tracking request [designed to identify the shopper] may be initiated and recorded…” [Section 0196]

“…it may also be desirable to acquire information about consumer behavior and their actions in response to specific stimuli. For example, suppliers of goods may wish to test the effectiveness of specific targeted offers, which may be tailored to individual consumers…” [Section 0004]

In an application reminiscent of a scene from Minority Report, the American Express patent would not only track and observe shoppers, but it would also spam them with purchasing “incentives,” advertisements, and even odors:

“In another exemplary embodiment, the system may include an incentive administrator… configured to receive the consumer identity signal and to emit an offer …based at least in part on that consumer identity signal.” [Section 0194]

“[I]ncentive information may be specifically tailored for presentation to consumer based on consumer identification signal …. incentive information may also be configured to trigger a corresponding presentation to be perceived by consumer. For example, the presentation to consumer may be configured as any combination of an emission of a printed advertisement, a display of a moving or static video image, a performance of a sound recording, or even an emission of a scent.” [Section 0213]

Identifying people through RFID-tagged items would not be limited to stores. The patent document suggests that RFID readers be placed in other public places as well for tracking purposes:

“…consumer may obtain incentives outside the merchant location. For example, consumer may interact with a self-service incentive administrator that may be located in a common area of a school, shopping center, bus station or other place of public accommodation.”

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