Debunking RFID Myths with Facts

With any technology that works passively in the background—including the Internet—there can be misunderstandings about the risks and benefits. RFID (radio frequency identification) is one of the oldest (it’s been in use since World War II), most effective, and (increasingly) economical technologies for measuring attendee behavior at trade shows and conferences, yet for some, it remains mysterious. Here are some plain facts to help clear the confusion.

Fact #1 RFID does not invade a user’s privacy.

Other devices can intercept radio frequencies. However, in the case of the RFID tags used for conferences and trade shows, the only information that can be intercepted—a number called the Electronic Process Code (EPC)—is meaningless unless it is associated with the information (name, title, address, contact information, etc.) gleaned from attendees during the registration process. To protect privacy, the information read by the RFID readers is placed in one database and the information from registration is stored in another database (from the event registration company). Furthermore, the only information ever recorded by RFID readers is identical to the information that is readily visible on the badge. In fact, RFID badges are more secure than typical barcode badges that contain all attendee information.

Fact #2 RFID is NOT mandatory for attendees.

As with many technologies and processes, providers offer opportunities to opt out of the system. The same is true with RFID. Attendees may request that their data not be shared with exhibitors or conference organizers to minimize any perceived privacy concerns. Written privacy and opt-out policies can be provided to event participants upon request or placed on the event Website to clarify the organization’s use (and benefits) of the information and options for event participants.

Fact #3 RFID will only read data where the readers are placed.

RFID technology has a level of flexibility that adds to the relevance of the data. The readers—although highly accurate—can only record data within a certain range of the reader equipment. If the readers are placed strategically, they will pick up only the most relevant data and filter out any useless information. Thus, the claim that EVERY move is monitored is not true. Only the most strategic and relevant behavior of attendees and staff is recorded.

Fact #4 RFID can be used to monitor attendees and staff.

The benefits of RFID technology—recording attendee interests and preferences, collecting important business intelligence, and enabling smarter decisions—extends beyond attendees. Many large exhibitors use the devices to improve the productivity of staff members by recording where (what locations within the booth) and when (times of highest booth traffic) they are most productive. The information obtained from these analyses can lead to substantial costs savings, optimal staff placement, and higher productivity.

Fact#5 RFID is not expensive.

In the case of trade shows, the costs for RFID “systems” are split between the event organizer and the exhibitors—the organizer purchases the tags and the exhibitor rents the RFID reader (similar to a lead retrieval device). The avg. cost of a tag is about $0.35 (one tag is embedded on every badge) and the rental fee for a reader is as low as $450 (if rented during the early bird period). This cost is comparable to a lead retrieval device that normally rents for approximately $350. The number of readers necessary depends on the size of the booth and the desired number of read points. It is recommended that 3% of the total trade show budget be spent on measurement and organizers have a number of choices for minimizing those costs.

Event organizers and exhibitors are under pressure from a number of fronts to keep costs down in order to boost return on investment. To do so, they look for technologies that yield high productivity and value. RFID, when fully understood, can help users achieve better data, make better decisions, and lower costs. It is among the methods—cameras have also been used for many years—for monitoring attendee behavior and improving exhibit and conference program performance.