Skip to main content

Building theory from consumer reactions to RFID: discovering Connective Proximity


Academic research into RFID technology has largely neglected ethics. What scarce research was being performed has now dwindled despite having some consumers continue to express their ethical concerns. This article aims at reducing this apparent void by exploring the antecedents that cause the public to react when consumers are targeted by RFID technology. Through the analysis of 11 real RFID implementations used to target consumers, our research indicates that several factors can influence consumer response through the distinct nature of the technology, namely, (1) Customization of communications, (2) Imposition of tag use, (3) Segmentation and targeting, (4) Modified role of the sales representative, (5) Physical distance between the consumer and the tag, and (6) Security of transactions. The article then proposes a construct to determine the risk of raising consumer ethical concerns. The construct of “Connective Proximity” and its three components (physical proximity, exposure time, and information proximity) are defined. Our research highlights the need for further studies on the ethical considerations of tagging humans and specifically tracking consumers when performing marketing activities with RFID technology. Our article aims at invigorating research on this topic, which has a lot to contribute to both society and corporations.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

References for case study

  • Barnes, B. (2013). At Disney Parks, a Bracelet Meant to Build-Loyalty (and Sales). New York Times.

  • Desmarais, C. (2012). Texas school uses RFID badges to track student locations. PCWorld.

  • IDTechEx Knowledge Database. (2006). Prada apparel item level New York USA.

  • IDTechEx Knowledge Database. (2007). GeDenim Cards France.

  • IDTechEx Knowledge Database. (2008). McDonlad’s Phone Payment Japan.pdf.

  • IDTechEx Knowledge Database. (2010a). McDonald’s Phone Vouchers Japan.

  • IDTechEx Knowledge Database. (2010b). Smug Coffee LLC Coffee Mugs USA.

  • Johnson, C. (2013a). RFID-embedded smart mug makes coffee shops even more smug. Switched.

  • Johnson, J. R. (2011a). Vail extends rfid social media program; nba, nhl and mlb may be next to adopt. RFID 24-7.

  • Johnson, J. R. (2011b). Tampa Bay lightning boost sales with RFID-enables team Jerseys. RFID 24-7.

  • Johnson, J. R. (2012). Social media and RFID: A golden opportunity for retailers. RFID 24-7.

  • Johnson, J. R. (2013b). Disney fires back at privacy concerns over mymagic+. RFID 24-7.

  • Johnson, J. R. (2013c). Sunglass hut deploys RFID to boost consumer engagement. RFID 24-7.

  • Lundberg, J. (2011). NCR innovation helps Tampa Bay Lightning drive fan loyalty and sell tickets. Available at

  • Montgomery, K. (2010). Smart Coffee Mug Features RFID Chip for Easy Purchases. PC Magazine.

  • Oremus, W. (2013). Student loses lawsuit challenging Texas school’s RFID tracking program. Slate.

  • Parkinson, D. (2012). Nissan social experience at Paris Motor Show Kicks Off with Google+Hangout. Available at

  • Staggs, T. (2013, March 10). Taking the Disney Guest Experience to the Next Level. DisneyParks Blog.

  • Swedberg, C. (2010). To reduce waste, smug customers use RFID coffee mugs. RFID Journal, pp. 1–2.

  • Zara, C. (2013). Disney World’s RFID tracking bracelets are a slippery slope, Warns Privacy Advocate. International Business Times.


  • Aluri, A., & Palakurthi, R. (2011). The influence of demographic factors on consumer attitudes and intentions to use RFID technologies in the US hotel industry. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Technology, 2(3), 188–203.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Angeles, R. (2007). An empirical study of the anticipated consumer response to RFID product item tagging. Industrial Management & Data Systems, 107(4), 461–483.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Astani, M., & Bjorke, J. (2007). Radio frequency identification technology and consumer privacy. Issues in Information Systems, VIII(2), 341–347.

  • Barnes, B. (2013). At Disney Parks, a Bracelet Meant to Build-Loyalty (and Sales). New York Times.

  • Beitelspacher, L. S., Hansen, J. D., Johnston, A. C., & Deitz, G. D. (2012). Exploring consumer privacy concerns and RFID technology: The impact of fear appeals on consumer behaviors. The Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, 20(2), 147–160.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bendavid, Y., Boeck, H., & Philippe, R. (2012). RFID-enabled traceability system for consignment and high value products: A case study in the healthcare sector. Journal of Medical Systems, 36(6), 3473–3489.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bentham, J. (1791). Panopticon or the inspection house, 2.

  • Black, J. (2004). Shutting shopping bags to prying eyes. Business Week.

  • Boeck, H., Roy, J., Durif, F., & Gregoire, M. (2011). The effect of perceived intrusion on consumers’ attitude towards using an RFID-based marketing program. Procedia Computer Science, 5, 841–848.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Boeck, H., & Wamba, S. F. (2008). RFID and buyer–seller relationships in the retail supply chain. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, 36(6), 433–460.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brey, P. (2005). Editorial introduction—Surveillance and privacy. Ethics and Information Technology, 7(4), 183–184.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • CASPIAN. (2003a). Boycott Gillette—Fight Back. Caspian.

  • CASPIAN. (2003b). Send Benetton a message: Don’t buy clothing with tracking devices! Caspian.

  • CASPIAN. (2003c). Consumers against supermarket privacy invasion and numbering (CASPIAN). Available at

  • Clarke, R. (2001). Person location and person tracking—Technologies, risks and policy implications. Information Technology & People, 14(2), 206–231.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Clifford, S., & Hardy, Q. (2013). Attention, shoppers: Store is tracking your cell. The New York Times, pp. 5–9.

  • Corbin, J., & Strauss, A. (2008). Basics of qualitative research. Los Angeles: Sage Publi.

    Google Scholar 

  • Daly, E. (2010). Personal autonomy in the travel panopticon. Ethics and Information Technology, 12(2), 97–108.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • De George, R. T. (2008). The ethics of information technology and business. New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dean, D. H. (2013). Anticipating consumer reaction to RFID-enabled grocery checkout. Services Marketing Quarterly, 34(1), 86–101.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • DeCew, J. W. (2004). Privacy and policy for genetic research. Ethics and Information Technology, 6(1), 5–14.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Denning, T., Borning, A., Friedman, B., Gill, B. T., Tadayoshi, K., & Maise, W. H. (2010). Patients, pacemakers, and implantable defibrillators: Human values and security for wireless implantable medical devices. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems, ACM, pp. 917–926.

  • Eisenhardt, K. M. (1989). Building theories from case study research. Academy of Management Review, 14(4), 532–550.

  • Floridi, L. (2005). The ontological interpretation of informational privacy. Ethics and Information Technology, 7(4), 185–200.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gartner Research. (2015). Gartner identifies the top 10 strategic technology trends for 2015.

  • Gilbert, A., & Shim, R. (2003). Wal-Mart cancels ‘smart shelf’ trial. CNET News.

  • Gioia, D. A., & Pitre, E. (1990). Multiparadigm perspectives on theory building. The Academy of Management Review, 15(4), 584–602.

    Google Scholar 

  • Glasser, D. J., Goodman, K. W., & Einspruch, N. G. (2007). Chips, tags and scanners: Ethical challenges for radio frequency identification. Ethics and Information Technology, 9, 101–109.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goel, R. (2007). Managing RFID consumer privacy and implementation barriers. Information Systems Security, 16(4), 217–223.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Guillemette, M. G., Fontaine, I., & Caron, C. (2008). Hybrid RFID-GPS real-time location system for human resources: Development, impacts and perspectives. In Proceedings of the annual Hawaii international conference on system sciences, pp. 1–10.

  • Günther, O., & Spiekermann, S. (2005). RFID and the perception of control: The consumer’s view. Communications of the ACM, 48(9), 73–76.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hassan, T., & Chatterjee, S. (2006). A taxonomy for RFID. In Proceedings of the 39th Hawaii international conference on system sciences.

  • Heath, H., & Cowley, S. (2004). Developing a grounded theory approach: a comparison of Glaser and Strauss. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 41, 141–150.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hsu, C.-H., Chao, H.-C., & Park, J. H. (2011). Threshold jumping and wrap-around scan techniques toward efficient tag identification in high density RFID systems. Information Systems Frontiers, 13(4), 471–480.

  • IDTechEx Knowledge Database. (2006), Prada Apparel Item Level New York USA.

  • IDTechEx Knowledge Database. (2008). McDonlad’s Phone Payment Japan.pdf.

  • Introna, L. D. (2005). Disclosive ethics and information technology: Disclosing facial recognition systems. Ethics and Information Technology, 7(2), 75–86.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jaccard, J., & Jacoby, J. (2010). Theory construction and model-building skills. A practical guide for social scientists. New York: The Guilfo.

    Google Scholar 

  • Johnson, J. R. (2013). Disney Fires Back at Privacy Concerns Over MyMagic+. RFID 24-7.

  • Johnson, J. R. (2014). Marks and Spencer Expands RFID Rollout; Will Tag 400M Items in 2014. RFID 24-7.

  • Johnson, R. (2012). Transcript: JC Penney CEO Ron Johnson. CNNMoney.

  • Katz, J. E., & Rice, R. E. (2009). Public views of mobile medical devices and services: A US national survey of consumer sentiments towards RFID healthcare technology. International Journal of Medical Informatics, 78, 104–114.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kelly, E. P., & Erickson, G. S. (2005). RFID tags: Commercial applications v. privacy rights. Industrial Management & Data Systems, 105(6), 703–713.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Krotov, V., & Junglas, I. (2008). RFID as a disruptive innovation. Journal of theoretical and applied electronic commerce research, 3(2), 44–59.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lefebvre, L. A., Lefebvre, É., Bendavid, Y., Fosso Wamba, S., & Boeck, H. (2006). RFID as an Enabler of B-to-B e-Commerce and its impact on business processes: A pilot study of a supply chain in the retail industry. In 39th annual Hawaii international conference on system sciences (HICSS’06), IEEE, pp. 1–10.

  • Li, X., Liu, J., Sheng, Q. Z., Zeadally, S., & Zhong, W. (2011). TMS-RFID: Temporal management of large-scale RFID applications. Information Systems Frontiers, 13(4), 481–500.

  • Lockton, V., & Rosenberg, R. S. (2005). RFID: The next serious threat to privacy. Ethics and Information Technology, 7, 221–231.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lopez, T. S., Ranasinghe, D. C., Patkai, B., & McFarlane, D. (2011). Taxonomy, technology and applications of smart objects. Information Systems Frontiers Special Issue on RFID, 13(2), 281–300.

  • Maier, K. (2005). Radio frequency identification. Electronic Privacy Information Center. Available at

  • Martinko, M. J., Henry, J. W., & Zmud, R. W. (1996). An attributional explanation of individual resistance to the introduction of information technologies in the workplace. Behaviour & Information technology, 15(5), 313–330.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McLean, A. (2011). Ethical frontiers of ICT and older users: Cultural, pragmatic and ethical issues. Ethics and Information Technology, 13, 313–326.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Michael, K. (2010). RFID implantable devices for humans and the risk versus reward. PerAda Workshop on Security, Trust and Privacy, Universita di Roma “La Sapienza”, Rome, Italy.

  • Michael, M. G., & Michael, K. (2010). Toward a State of Überveillance [Special Section Introduction]. IEEE on Technology and Society Magazine, 29(2), 9–16.

    MathSciNet  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Penders, J. (2004). Privacy in (mobile) telecommunications services. Ethics and Information Technology, 6(4), 247–260.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Peslak, A. R. (2005). An ethical exploration of privacy and radio frequency identification. Journal of Business Ethics, 59, 327–345.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Prahalad, C. K., & Ramaswamy, V. (2003). The new frontier of experience innovation. MIT Sloan Management Review, 44(4), 12–18.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pramatari, K., & Theotokis, A. (2009). Consumer acceptance of RFID-enabled services: a model of multiple attitudes, perceived system characteristics and individual traits. European Journal of Information Systems, Palgrave Macmillan, 18(6), 541–552.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. (2014, March 10). RFID Position Statement of Consumer Privacy and Civil Liberties Organizations. Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

  • Razzouk, N. Y., Seitz, V., & Nicolaou, M. (2008). Consumer concerns regarding RFID Privacy: An empirical study. Journal of Global Business and Technology, 4(1), 69–79.

    Google Scholar 

  • Reiman, J. H. (1995). Driving to the panopticon: A philosophical exploration of the risks to privacy posed by the highway technology of the future. Santa Clara Computer & high Tech LJ, 11, 27.

    Google Scholar 

  • Resatsch, F., Sandner, U., Leimeister, J. M., & Krcmar, H. (2008). Do point of sale RFID-based information services make a difference? Analyzing consumer perceptions for designing smart product information services in retail business. Electronic Markets, 18(3), 216–231.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rispal, M. H. (2002). La méthode des cas: Application à la recherche en gestion. De Boeck S.

  • Roberti, M. (2003). The real scandal. RFID Journal.

  • Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations. Fifth Edit: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Saldana, J. (2009). The coding manual for qualitative researchers. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sheng, Q. Z., Zeadally, S., Luo, Z., Jung, J.-Y., & Maamar, Z. (2010). Ubiquitous RFID: Where are we? Information Systems Frontiers Special Issue on RFID, 12(5), 485–490.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shepherd, D. A., & Sutcliffe, K. M. (2011). Inductive top-down theorizing: A source of new theories of organization. The Academy of Management Review, 36(2), 361–380.

    Google Scholar 

  • Slettemeas, D. (2009). RFID—The ‘Next Step’ in consumer–product relations or orwellian nightmare? Challenges for research and policy. Journal of Consumer Policy, 32(3), 219–244.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sreastman. (2013). San Antonio schools withdraw student RFID chip. Before it’s News.

  • Staggs, T. (2013, March 10). Taking the Disney Guest Experience to the Next Level. DisneyParks Blog.

  • Stefan Heng, D. B. R. (2006). RFID chips. American Civil Liberties Union. Available at http://www.dbresearch.chttps//’s+lips.PDF

  • Swedberg, C. (2013). NFC-enabled refrigerator shares data with mobile phones. RFID Journal.

  • Taghaboni-Dutta, F., & Velthouse, B. (2014). RFID technology is revolutionary: Who should be involved in this game of tag? Academy of Management Perspectives, 20(4), 65–78.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Trocchia, P., & Ainscough, T. (2012). Consumer attitudes toward RFID tracking in the retail environment. Review of Business Information, 16(2), 67–73.

    Google Scholar 

  • Uhrich, F., Sandner, U., Resatsch, F., Leimeister, J. M., & Krcmar, H. (2008). RFID in retailing and customer relationship management. The Communications of the Association for Information Systems, 23(13), 219–234.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vance, A. (2003), Wal-Mart turns customers into RFID lab rats. The Register.

  • Vara-Orta, F. (2013). Northside ISD drops student tracking program. MySA San Antonio’s Home Page.

  • Violino, B. (2003). Benetton talks about RFID plans. RFID Journal.

  • Wamba, S. F., & Boeck, H. (2008). Enhancing information flow in a retail supply chain using RFID and the EPC network: A proof-of-concept approach. Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research, 3(1), 92–105.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wang, J. L., & Loui, M. C. (2009). Privacy and ethical issues in location-based tracking systems. In International Symposium on Technology and Society, Proceedings, pp. 2–5.

  • Warren and Brandeis. (1890). The right to privacy. Harvard Law Review, IV(5), 1890.

  • Wasieleski, D. M., & Gal-Or, M. (2008). An enquiry into the ethical efficacy of the use of radio frequency. Ethics and Information Technology, 10, 27–40.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Van Wel, L., & Royakkers, L. (2004). Ethical issues in web data mining. Ethics and Information Technology, 6, 129–140.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Winter, J. S. (2014). Surveillance in ubiquitous network societies: Normative conflicts related to the consumer in-store supermarket experience in the context of the Internet of Things. Ethics and Information Technology, 16(1), 27–41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wu, Y. A., Prybutok, V. R., Koh, C. E., & Habus, B. (2012). A nomological model of RFID privacy concern. Business Process Management Journal, 18(3), 420–444.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Yin, R. K. (2003). Case study research, design and methods (Vol. 5). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zara, C. (2013), “Disney World’s RFID Tracking Bracelets Are A Slippery Slope, Warns Privacy Advocate”, International Business Times.

  • Ziekow, H., & Gunther, O. (2010). Sharing RFID and complex event data among organizations. Information Systems Frontiers, 12(5), 541–549.

  • Zimmer, M. (2005). Surveillance, privacy and the ethics of vehicle safety communication technologies. Ethics and Information Technology, 7(4), 201–210.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This research was funded by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et Culture.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Anna Margulis.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Margulis, A., Boeck, H., Bendavid, Y. et al. Building theory from consumer reactions to RFID: discovering Connective Proximity. Ethics Inf Technol 18, 81–101 (2016).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • RFID
  • Privacy
  • Ethics
  • Consumer
  • Human tracking
  • Case study