Sadly predictable

The Sept. 28 edition of The Wall Street Journal included a 16-page telecommunications report on the state of the wireless world. It was full of all sorts of fantastic almost-here technology and advice on, as the subtitle put it, "How to get the most out of the wireless world." But, sad to say, the report missed what survey after survey says is the most important factor in people's view of tomorrow's networked society. And, even sadder, the omission was totally predictable.

The 15 stories, plus sidebars, in the section covered a good chunk of the wireless world. The report included everything from the health effects of cell phones to wireless bar code replacements for cartons of soda to a blow-by-blow description of setting up a wireless LAN at home to Intel planning on adding miniradios to all sorts of future microprocessor chips. Some parts were quite silly, such as an account of an intrepid reporter trying to live for a week without a cell phone. But overall it was a very useful exploration of a wireless future, even if it missed one of the biggest issues along the path to that future.

On the technical side, the two most interesting stories were about  Intel's "Radio Free Intel" plan to add miniradios to all the types of microprocessors it sells in the next seven years and about wireless bar code replacements. Technically, it's not an easy task to shrink more than a dozen individual components into a small section of a microprocessor. But if anyone has the expertise to pull it off, it's Intel. Those things that don't get Intel radioettes can be wireless-enabled with the next generation of bar code replacements, which will be unpowered radio reflectors. A radio scanner is used to get the miniature devices to respond with a code. These devices have been used for a while to tag pets and farm animals, but now are getting inexpensive enough to include in consumer products such as washing machines or cases of wine and maybe soon, clothing. This type of tracking can be extended to people with device such as a Global Positioning System-based kid-tracker bracelet featured in a story about new wireless gadgets.

But, in what is to be expected from the business sector, I couldn't find the word "privacy" anywhere. With these new miniradios and bar code chips in everything from your PDA to your underwear, an average person in the Journal's future would be walking around with a dozen or more wireless devices on their person - a walking wireless "track-me" sign. What could be better for someone looking to kidnap kids than to have them wear a bracelet that broadcasts where they are at all times?

It's appalling, but normal, that the mouthpiece of American business would forget about privacy. It's a frightening future the Journal paints by its omission.

Disclaimer: To some, Harvard is appalling, to some it's normal. For most of the world, it's in between. But the one being appalled above is me (and maybe you).

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