VeriSign, the same company in charge of the .com and .net Internet registries, has been chosen by an international standards group to provide and run a root directory for a massive radio frequency identification (RFID) network considered to be the next evolution beyond bar codes.
EPCglobal, a nonprofit standards organization, said the selection of VeriSign to run the Object Naming Service (ONS) root directory marks a significant step toward the commercialization of RFID and electronic product code (EPC) technology.
While the newer technology promises to streamline the supply-chain process, analysts have cautioned about the expense of the new technology and its required hardware. They also have expressed reservations over centralized sharing of product information.
“I think this addresses the basic challenge of getting all of the players in the supply chain to migrate from bar codes to RFID tags,” Yankee Group analyst Adam Zawel told TechNewsWorld. “A central registry will help. The question is how willing the larger players are to have their information shared.”
Although VeriSign has had issues associated with privacy in the past, EPCglobal president Margaret Fitzgerald called the Mountain View, California-based company “the perfect partner for the job.”
EPCglobal spokesperson Jack Grasso told TechNewsWorld that VeriSign was chosen from among many companies in a rigorous selection process because of its direct experience, ability to meet implementation deadlines and suitability in terms of a mutually beneficial contract.
“They maintain the domain name services for the Internet, so they have already existing in place the infrastructure to do pretty much the same thing they do for DNS for the ONS directory,” Grasso said.
VeriSign CEO Stratton Sclavos said his company’s Advanced Transaction Lookup and Signaling System (ATLAS) platform, which will support the EPC network, provides the ideal solution for the volume of information requests the network will support as RFID technology grows.
VeriSign of Trouble?
However, the choice to name VeriSign as the company that will operate the directory does not bode well for privacy, according to Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) associate director Chris Hoofnagle.
“VeriSign has not been the most sensitive company to privacy and consumer protection issues in the past,” Hoofnagle told TechNewsWorld, referring to VeriSign’s whois directory service, domain registry expiration notices and SiteFinder service that redirected users who mistyped domain names to VeriSign’s own Web page. The SiteFinder service was taken offline last October following widespread protest by vocal Internet users.
Yankee Group senior analyst Mike Dominy, who said the biggest barrier for RFID is the cost of the tags themselves, told TechNewsWorld that VeriSign will face the challenge of maintaining an unbiased approach to collecting and holding data from different companies that could, in fact, be competitors.
“[Companies are] going to be very leery about having their information commingled with information on their competitors,” Dominy said. “I definitely see that as a hurdle for VeriSign.”
Different Kind of Privacy
While he predicted that separation of data will be a key requirement for companies that are deciding whether or not to share information, Dominy also called the selection of VeriSign for the root directory an important step that sits well within the EPCglobal vision for RFID.
He said the information VeriSign will control likely will be managed on a point-to-point basis using existing business-to-business network connections.
Hoofnagle, who said that both the capabilities of and the fears associated with RFID technology may have been overstated, indicated that, unlike consumers, corporations have more leverage in bargaining for privacy.
“I wouldn’t worry about that issue too much because companies will protect themselves,” he said. “They’ll be able to craft protection better.”