Tuesday, September 15, 2015

How the NFL is Reshaping Surveillance Society

As guards were going so far as to check inside NFL fans' wallets as part of routine security measures before a recent preseason game at Levi's Stadium, a different form of surveillance was taking place on the inside of the San Francisco 49ers' 1-year-old, $1.3 billion home here in Silicon Valley.

We're not talking about facial recognition devices, police body cams, or other security measures likely zeroing in on fans. Instead, employees from San Jose-based Zebra Technologies had recently finished scanning the NFL uniforms of the 49ers and of their opponents—the Dallas Cowboys. All of a sudden, an on-the-field de facto surveillance society was instantly created when Zebra techies activated nickel-sized Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) chips that were fastened inside players' shoulder pads. Every movement of every player now could be monitored within an accuracy level of all but a few inches.

On its surface, this seems pretty innocuous. Cameras already track things like total player movement in sports, allowing teams to better recognize tendencies or gauge the physical toll on players. RFID chips, however, can provide more accurate, more granular information along these lines. The NFL's new real-time player tracking data—including things such as player speed and team formations—undoubtedly promises to reformat the game in terms of fan participation, team practicing methods, and potentially game-time strategy.

There's a larger story playing itself out as well. The league's RFID initiative may push far beyond the gridiron.

That's because this so-called geo-fencing technology has a geekier side, and it will likely recast things like fantasy football, the Microsoft's Xbox One experience, and perhaps even the Madden NFL video game produced by Electronic Arts. What's more, the technology potentially opens up new proposition gambling bets in Las Vegas sports books or other gambling venues. But its most unexpected impact will have nothing to do with sports at all. Fortune 500 companies are watching the NFL closely, examining how they might incorporate the RFID chip to monitor every move of their onsite employees from the construction site, the office, and beyond.

by David Kravets, Ars Technica | Read more:
Image:Christopher Schodt