RFID & DMCA, a frightening combination


Just for fun, here's the article that I wrote on March 6th 2003 that spawned the idea for my recently issued patent. I still think it's a frightening idea, but at least now I might have some control over whether it happens.

While writing a summary story on a Wired article this morning, I started thinking about a terrible combination of technologies: RFID and DMCA.

I've written here before about the DMCA case brought by Lexmark against a manufacturer that has created a chip that can be put into Lexmark toner cartridges to allow them to be refilled and reused. The basic idea is that if you buy a specific kind of toner cartridge from Lexmark, you need to send it back to them for refilling, thus making sure that Lexmark has a revenue stream on the more robust, recyclable cartridges.

Enter RFID. Recently I also put up some articles about companies such as Gillette that are in the process of putting RFID transmitters in their very inexpensive products for tracking and inventory purposes.

Most folks have postulated that the technologies involved in a wide-scale anti-replacement-part endeavor by a major manufacturer would be difficult because of the cheap expense of certain parts, such as air filters, fuel filters, etc. However, imagine if these two ideas were put together. Put a single RF controller under the hood that sends periodic mesages (whenever the car is started) to do an inventory of the parts under the hood. Fuel filter, check! Belts, check! Oil filter, check! OK, start the car, vroom!

Sounds innocuous enough. As a matter of fact, what a nice idea that it won't start if crucial parts are not in place. That could be a life saver... yeah, right [but it will be advertised as such]. Now, how about this: Part that does nothing but wears out every 300-times you start the car, check! Hmmm, sounds far fetched? Not necessarilly. Already, manufactureres such as Xerox do this in their printers. In the Xerox Phaser 860, there is a chip in the "maintenance kit" that allows you to print only a limited number of copies before your printer won't function. You need to replace the "maintenance kit" with either a "standard life" or "long life" kit. I've bought both, and the ONLY difference is that the "long life" kit has a "bigger" counter in it.

So, mix these two together and you get a car that will only start 300 times before you have to pay the car company for another chip. Or, a car that requires that manufacturers replacement parts.

Not very nice, eh?