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Dust-up over Storage Networking World’s RFID tagging of attendees, Part 1

Nov 29, 20057 mins
Data CenterRFID

* An e-mail conversation with Storage Networking World’s Ron Milton

Mark Twain once advised his readers “never to pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” You decide what happens when two barrels of electronic ink are involved.

A few weeks ago this newsletter published an article in which I called the management of the Storage Networking World (SNW) trade show to task for slipping RFID tags into the badge holders that attendees wore at the show. My feeling was – and still is – that this sort of thing is inappropriate unless the people being tracked are told this is happening.

What followed was an e-mail exchange with Ron Milton, executive vice president of Computerworld, the publication that runs SNW (and sister publication of Network World). His point, as you will see, is that there was signage indicating that RFID tracking was in use. My point was that such signs are only useful if people can readily see them (five Storage Newsletter bonus points for the first 10 of you who can identify the obvious Douglas Adams analogy here).

As Ron’s e-mail to me was subsequently blogged (unfortunately I cannot find the appropriate URL or I would point you to it – my apologies), and as my editors and publisher were all copied, I am publishing the whole thing here and in the next newsletter.

I’ve left all the typos – his and mine – in place. I have made two minor changes to the text: I have removed some personal information such as telephone numbers, and I have reversed the order in which the messages appear to make the thread more easily readable.

You decide.


Sent: Thursday, November 17, 2005 11:51 AM

To: Mike Karp


Subject: Your Article/Newsletter on RFID

Importance: High

Dear Mike

With regrets, I read your newsletter story posted 11/3/05 after SNW Fall about RFID. Your facts are wrong and I wanted you to know I posted a blog to refute what you said. Your statements were not based on fact and from my POV as the owner of the event, in bad taste and not in keeping with the high standards of journalism at Network World.

While I would appreciate a retraction or further clarification as to the facts, I will leave that in your and [Network World Editor-in-Chief] John Dix’s hands… Please advise if you intend to do anything so Bruce Hoard can publish an article on if you choose not to.

What follows is a copy of my blog and a .pdf file of the many (20″x28″ in size) signs at the event. You may want to note that CA World this week is doing the same thing (also with attendee notification), and like us, have no serious complints other than some folks opting-out.


— Ron

Ron Milton

Executive Vice President



Shame on Mike Karp for not reading large signs that contained the following text (regarding RFID usage) at SNW Fall…

“RFID: This label is equipped with technology that will enable us to automatically capture the unique ID number of the badge without interfering or hindering your ability to navigate the conference. The ONLY information that will be captured is the unique ID number.

We are implementing this pilot program to better serve your needs at future SNW conferences; however, if you do not wish to participate and would like to “Opt Out” of the program, please return your RFID label to the registration area in Palazzo Ballroom Salon D. Thank you”

Maybe Mike can find some value from the 125 educational sessions at the event next time round like the thousands that braved a huuricane to seriously network and be educated – and didn’t complain about RFID usage (when politely informed about it ahead of time).

Freedom of the press is fundamental to our society… but what goes with that is the trust that facts are checked in journalism.

From: “Mike Karp” []

Sent: 11/17/2005 05:26 PM

To: Ron Milton

Subject: RE: Your Article/Newsletter on RFID


Thanks for your recent email. I agree that we have a point to discuss.

First, let me assure you that I have always been a big fan of SNW. If you are at all familiar with my newsletters over the past years you are well aware of this.

Second, I have to tell you that while I was at SNW from Sunday afternoon through Wednesday PM, at no point did I see any of the signs that you most thoughtfully copied me on. Much more to the point, I spoke to several people at the show regarding the tags – I would estimate the number of this group to be between 25-40, and was a mix of vendors, other analysts and end-users – and the RFID tags were as big a surprise to them as they were to me. They obviously hadn’t seen the signs either.

Furthermore, the readers of my column tend to have little hesitancy about telling me when I have gone astray, and while I am sure that many attended the conference (as I have often encouraged them to do), I also have to tell you that in the week or so since the RFID article was published not one reader has responded to tell me that they saw your signs and that I was wrong.

I am sure the signs were there; I am much less confident that they were adequately displayed.

I have no doubt that the tags were included in our badge kits for reasons that have nothing to do with intruding on attendees’ privacy. That, however, is not the point. If one doesn’t see the signs – and clearly many, many people did not – the best of good intentions can go awry. I would like to think that is what happened here.

Perhaps you might consider the following:

* In an environment where people are scurrying about amidst interesting technologies and displayed alongside large and very large signs – and many of them at that – a 20”x28” format may not be able to compete successfully for visibility.

* Computerworld always makes sure that attendees get a bag filled with event information – why not just include this caveat there?

* Better yet, why not simply print the guidance on the tag itself?

* A final alternative: why not just include an electronic signoff on RFID tracking as part of the badge pickup process? A formal opt-in process like this would unfailingly ensure that everyone knows what is going on, and would avoid any opportunity for confusion in the future.

Your note states that “Freedom of the press is fundamental to our society… but what goes with that is the trust that facts are checked in journalism.” With truth under assault at so many levels in our society I vigorously agree with you. In my newsletter I reported on what I saw and what I heard – and also, in this case, on what I did not see. My story is consistent with the facts as I and a great many others saw them. What would you have me retract? I certainly cannot say that the people I spoke with saw your signs. They did not.

I feel strongly that your reliance on the principle of implied assent – “if we don’t hear from you, we assume you are going along with this” – is quite inappropriate in this context. Thus, I hope you will consider a formal opt-in process rather than relying on implicit acceptance next time around.

Please feel free to append this note to your blog.Michael Karp

Thanks and regards,


Senior Analyst

Enterprise Management Associates

Next time: Ron Milton defends his organization’s practices.