Microsoft to tag conference-goers with RFID

RFID tags will be embedded into badges at the annual Tech.Ed conference in Sydney as part of a tracking experiment. Those who opt out will have less access to conference info.

Microsoft announced on Monday plans to track Australian delegates attending its annual Tech.Ed conference in Sydney using RFID tags embedded in conference badges.

Until now in Australia, human-targeted deployments of RFID tags have largely been limited to state prison systems. ACT Corrective Services said earlier this year that it had commissioned U.S. RFID provider Alanco and NEC Australia to install a Wi-Fi-compatible inmate-tracking system within its walls.

Microsoft's experiment will take place over the five days of next week's conference, although it could involve a relatively large sample size. The conference typically attracts no fewer than 1,000 delegates.

The software giant will allow delegates to opt out of the tracking experiment, but they will be enticed to participate with the offer of greater access to conference information. Delegates who opt out will have standard barcodes printed on their badges instead.

The benefits promoted to delegates to partake in the RFID tag experiment include access to real-time information on when sessions are filling up, the ability to see what sessions others are interested in, and tracking where Microsoft so-called most valuable players and regional directors are located.

Microsoft will also track sessions that each delegate attends and will use that information to customize sessions, the company said in a statement. It will also send delegates an instant record of what sessions they have attended.

The RFID tracking system took just three weeks to build and deploy, according to Microsoft.

Research firm IDC has predicted that use of RFID tags by business will rise by 122 percent in 2009. The track and trace chips were used in 8 percent of companies last year, while 18 percent of them expect to use them in 2009.

Microsoft was not immediately available to comment.

The move comes months after 50 academics, researchers and students at the University of Washington began an unrelated social-networking experiment, in which participants voluntarily tag themselves. The system records the location of tags every five seconds and publishes movements to a Web page.

Liam Tung of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.

 

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