On-Bike RFID: Cool Commuter Vehicle or Big Brother Biking?

RFID solar transmitter and bike graphic

Dero Bike Racks has put together a solar-powered RFID system which via a tag on the bike or biker and a location transmitter that beeps and keeps count of the number of times a bike commuter arrived by bike, then sends the data via Wi-Fi to a computer for reporting purposes. Similar to the Fast Pass RFID tags deployed on high occupancy vehicle lanes and toll roads, the Dero Zap system signifies the bike is a serious commuting vehicle (eligible for that federal $20 dollar monthly subsidy). RFID tags on bikes are becoming more common - they can be used to attempt to thwart theft and aid in post-theft retrieval, or to help locate your selection in a pile of bike share bikes. Yet is there a sinister side?
The Federal Bicycle Commuter Act allows employers to reward their employees traveling to work by bike offering up to $20 a month, so the Dero Zap may be a necessary tool for counting commuting trips and filing the necessary paperwork.

Dero designed the system along with non-profit organization Freiker (frequent + biker), and it is in use at Seward Montessori school in Minneapolis as well as about a dozen elementary schools across the country to encourage kids to both walk and bike to school. Freiker says that its system of RFID tags, which are generally attached to helmets or backpacks instead of bikes, are given to students and designed to not contain any identifying information.

It's hard not to like a system that encourages human-powered transport (some Freiker schools offer incentive rewards to regular walkers and bikers). Now the Dero Zap is being offered to companies. And RFID tags are also a signature feature of the award-winning entry to the Copenhagen bike sharing design contest held last December.

However, RFID is not entirely benign. As with all technology, it depends on how it is used. Currently, RFID is rapidly proliferating in uses in the marketplace, and showing up everywhere without consumers really being aware of everything that might be tagged nor being cognizant of what their rights might be regarding RFID tagging.

"Before RFID proliferation reaches the tipping point, consumers should know their RFID rights and corporations should follow them. Privacy expert Simson Garfinkel proposed the RFID Bill of Rights to serve this purpose. They include the rights to: know whether products contain RFID tags, have tags removed or disabled once tagged items have been purchased, use RFID-enabled services without tags, access the data stored on an RFID tag and know when, where, and why tags are being read. Similar to how a pack of M&M;'s states they were manufactured in a plant that processes peanuts, future items containing RFID tags should make it easy for the ordinary consumer to know whether the item is tagged."

- Paul Stamatiou, Privacy Implications of RFID Tags

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