RFID Buttons: Cute Or Ominous?

A Chinese RFID manufacturer has started shipping RFID tags designed to look—and apparently function—as real buttons. They also can be washed with no harm to the sealed RFID mechanism.

On the plus side, this flips a problem with today's RFID tags. They are relatively obvious—if one looks, even a little—and consumers want to quickly remove them and throw them away. By turning a tag into a button, however, consumers suddenly want to preserve it, most likely not even realizing that it's an RFID tag.

But there's a danger in these not-so-cute-as-a-button buttons. The problem with these tags—called RFID Laundry Tags and made by Daily RFID Co.—is that there is no application today that would benefit from the tags staying on the garment after purchase.

If the tag is going to be removed anyway, why bother disguising it?

Whether valid or not (and the nature of this particular design raises troubling questions), this design will fuel consumer privacy advocates' concerns that retailers and manufacturers want to track their products—and their customers—after they've left the store.

These concerns have been voiced for years but generally are dismissed because no chain or manufacturer was actually using the capability. But form-factors such as these faux buttons have the very real potential of breathing new life into such concerns.

To be fair, these may not be faux buttons, in that they may actually function as buttons. In which case, they're not faux: They're Trojan horses. But in this version of the classic Trojan War tale, the soldiers inside the horse might turn around and attack their retail Greek creators.