by Bob Walters | June 01, 2004

There’s a lot of tagging going on these days. Wal-Mart, for example, is requiring all suppliers to tag their products so they can be identified easily and moved through their warehouses, and we’ve all bought items tagged with theft-alarm devices that have to be removed.
    Tagging today has a new set of initials RFID, which stands for Radio Frequency Identification. What makes RFID so attractive is that it can be amazingly miniaturized. Some developers, in fact,   are working on developing digital “dust,” or particle-sized microchips. Holding   lots of information, these micro-micro chips could be sprinkled in boxes or bags and be read merely by passing relatively near an RFID scanner some of which have a range of more than 90 feet.
    So how can RFID impact the meetings industry? A badge embedded with an RFID chip could carry quite a bit of data about an attendee, including his or her interests, purchasing desires, meeting profiles and continuing education requirements. Such a badge also could streamline exhibitor lead retrieval and session attendance tracking, or locate an attendee on the show floor or in a venue.
    Several lead-retrieval and on-site registration companies have enhanced their latest versions of smartcards with RFID chips for a number of reasons: The technology is more affordable than that of traditional smartcards; its memory is easily erased and can be reprogrammed; it stores more data; it takes up less space, and it transfers its information by radio waves rather than a swipe-card unit. Attendees just pass within range of a reader, and their facts are transmitted to the file server no need to hand over a card or aim a bar-code reader at a badge.
    One company, New York City-based nTAG (, has even converted an RFID badge into a mini-PDA with multiple uses.
    Aside from permitting normal attendance tracking, nTags also can enhance personal networking at meetings. When two nTAG wearers approach each other, their RFID chips scan for any common interests and/or possible matches of buyer to vendor. This, and other information, is displayed on the badge’s monochrome screen.
    Along with “Hi, My name is Tom,” the card might also read, “We have two things in common.” Push one of three buttons on the badge and those common items appear on screen. If they want, the two can then exchange electronic business cards. Tom could even use the screen to enter a note (using standard and custom menu-driven options on the screen), to be collected by the next RFID reader he approaches and stored on the main file server.
    NTAG also can set up web pages for each attendee that store the information their badges have gathered. Attendees can go to the sites to review their new contacts, perform follow-up activities and off-load information.
    The only shortcoming I can see in this system, at present, is the size of the badge; the screen and the hardware required make it clunky.

Looming large over the technical question, however, is the issue of privacy. Because of the power of the chip and the readers, it is possible to track attendees anywhere in the venue without their knowledge even, depending on the facility, to their rooms.
    Like cell phones, RFID chips are always transmitting, looking for a reading device. Given physical proximity to the show, an unscrupulous person with an RFID reader could locate people and generally pirate any of the information scanned.
    With that vulnerability in mind, RFID chips now under development are designed to go to sleep unless awakened by a secure signal, prompting them to off-load or acquire additional data.