Wednesday, April 20, 2011

ACC Explains the Use of RFID Tags on Attendee's Name Badges

In response to my earlier post on the use of RFID tags at the ACC's Scientific Sessions, I left a message on the ACC's blog to inquire about this practice. My comment was not initially published, but today I noticed that traffic came from their blog and that my comment and a response to my inquiry was published on the 12th of April. Here's what they said:
Hi Dr. Fisher,

Thanks for your question and your feedback on the meeting. RFID is used by many large meetings -- the technology allows us to track which sessions an attendee attends, and also to track flow -- this will help us a lot to plan the education program next year, as we will be able to use data to determine co-location of pathways etc. to make for an ever better attendee experience on show site. Info that the ACC collected at ACC.11/i2 will help us better plan meeting rooms and expo entrances, adjust our conference programming & expo hall floor plan, and quantify to exhibitor prospects the value of investing in our event, among other things. We are not using the RFID to award CME.

Thank you again for your feedback. Please know we will certainly take your concerns into consideration as we plan for 2012.

All the best,

Sue Sears Hamilton
Associate Vice President, Annual Scientific Session
American College of Cardiology
First, this was very nice of them to respond. I am concerned, however, that this company that tracks these RFID tags can identify the individual and their associated institution in real-time at these meetings (see their promotional video). As Calvin Powers from IBM notes on his blog:
Is it OK for the ACC to give the names, demographic information, contact info, etc of every individual that visited the booth?

At this point in the continuum we have moved into the realm of identified tracking and I suspect most people would feel like their privacy had been invaded if their individual movements were tracked and this level of detail was sold to the exhibitors. When the tracking becomes identifiable down to the individual, privacy practices regarding transparency, opt in/out policies, etf become very important.
We do not know if this practice occurred, but we do know that the capability was there.

My bet: there will be one heck on an "opt in" clause for this technology going forward for future meetings.

At least I hope so.



Marco said...

If they are correlating your name with your movements, all the more reason to excise the RFID tag and leave it in the bathroom for the duration of the meeting.

Anonymous said...

Probably not used at the am bar Assn or PBA conference. This is a bookend to Congress mandating tracking of every penny source of income of physicians. Scary stuff.
David Lee Scher,MD, FHRS

Jay said...


Thanks for the follow up on this important issue.

I share your concerns and am also troubled by the possibility personally identifiable information was tracked and reported. This needs to be clarified definitively (ACC -- if you are reading this, fess up).

I have my doubts that there will be an "opt in" policy unless the ACC membership speaks up loudly.

Recall that one of their stated goals (and the main goal promoted by the RFID vendor) is quantifying to "exhibitor prospects the value of investing in our event"

I suspect an "opt in" would decrease the "value" of this technology so much that it wouldn't have a sufficient ROI to be worthwhile.

Let's hope this all goes away.

Thanks for shedding light on this.


P.S. I've added comments to the ACC blog, and would urge others to speak up as well.

s.b. said...

If numbers/traffic is all they're interested in why haven't they just used turnstiles?

They seem to be good enough for the MTA, managing the entire subway system of New York City and theme parks across America.

I smell something fishy...

Anonymous said...

As someone who worked in a booth at ACC I can tell you what it was like for us.

1. You have to pay/subscribe to get the RFID from people who visited your booth.
2. In the excel file afterwards we get first/last name, company name and mailing address. No phone or email.

If you opted to have your card/badge swiped, then the booth exhibitor has your email address.

I hope that helps and LOVE your blog. Sorry I haven't commented before but this was something I could actually give an informed comment on!

Jay said...

Looks like "Anonymous" has confirmed what we had feared.

ACC attendee personal information and whereabouts were sold without clear notification to vendors. The information was collected with an "opt out" policy. I think it is unlikely that even a very small minority of the attendees had any idea this was going on.

I find this to be a fairly striking privacy intrusion. This really should be stopped. I've suggested to ACC that the policy should be "opt in" and that personal information should be removed from the RFID data. It should be our business if we want to tell a vendor that we're interested in their product.


jimbino said...

You should insist that they use an anonymizer at sign-in, such as a bowl full of RFIDs where you can grab one at ramdom.

I'm happy to say that I am never a patient of a doc who can't learn to respect privacy and wash his hands.

Anonymous said...

If I attended that conference I would hate that on general principles. I already hate the fact than the iphone logs your movements and saves them in a file. I guess the presumption of no privacy extends everywhere these days.

Jay said...

RFID tracker on the Heart Rhythm Society session badge that arrived today.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure it's such a bad thing and that everyone has to worry. I read an article about this here and it basically makes it seem that RFID is just trying to make things easier for us- not really track our every movement.