Privacy issues with nTAG @ EmTech

The Emerging Technologies Conference at MIT featured an electronic nametag, which was slightly fancier and a whole lot chunkier than RFID-embedded nametags that I’ve seen at other conferences. Made by nTAG Interactive, the nametag was basically a PDA that you hung on your neck. On top of the PDA is a paper nametag that states your name and affiliation. (Makes you think- while they were at it, why didn’t they put a small LCD screen on the device and get rid of paper entirely?)

One of the good things about the nTAG was that you didn’t have to exchange namecards- when two people meet, the devices pick up information of the other person and lets you “store” it, adding notes regarding the person, and so forth. You can later login to nTag’s site to download those contacts or have them emailed.

While this system seems very convenient, there is the factor of having to go through nTag’s main computer to access your information. Although accounts are personalized, there is still the issue of nTag being able to see who networked with whom. The devices even know which sessions you’ve attended (or not), which is a little more information than I’d like to give them.

You can also send messages to other conference attendees and participate in discussions via your nametag, but the most disturbing thing was that the system used personal data (that you input in order to network) to analyze what kind of people were attending the conference… and who knows what else?.

I suppose this is the kind of tethered technology that Jonathan Zittrain warns about. True, this gadget is easier to carry than a thick booklet (the one you get at every conference, with a list of speakers, profiles, forums, etc.) but because all information is controlled and monitored by nTag, you have to give up more than you get.

PS. I took a picture of the nTag, but I can’t find my CF card reader at the present (will update later). I wish my camera would wirelessly connect with my computer- but then bluetooth technology is something I’m worried about too. Without wires, you begin to wonder how many bits are floating around in the air… disturbing!

-yvette wohn

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