Consumer, Consumer Threat Notices

Lost Your Luggage? There’s an App for That

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By on Dec 17, 2013

Did you know that worldwide, 1% of all luggage was mishandled last year—a percentage that may seem small, but actually amounts to an astounding 25.8 million bags (costing airlines $2.6 billion dollars, and passengers some serious grievance)? Thankfully, the days of paper baggage claim checks and missing bags may be long gone. One technology company is working to ease the headache for both travelers and airlines by creating an electronic luggage tagging system that will be controlled through a mobile app. Vanguard ID Systems’ electronic tag would save paper, ink, and the headache of lost baggage, but does this new tracking technology pose a threat to your personal security?

The “ViewTag” is a plastic baggage claim tag that hooks onto your bags much like its sticky paper counterpart. But this tag utilizes a matte “electronic paper” display (similar to the screen on a Kindle) to show your departing and arriving airport codes and a scannable barcode for the airport’s reference. It’s very much like the luggage labels we’re accustomed to, only reusable, unbreakable, and waterproof.

With the new programmable ViewTag, you can use an app on your mobile device to easily code the electronic baggage claim tag with your final destination. ViewTags use a technology called Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID)—something that is already used to track automobile parts through the assembly line, keep track of warehouse inventory, and more. Once the tag has been programmed, users will receive a text message whenever the bag makes a stop or arrives in a new destination­—so you’ll know where your luggage is at all times.

RFID works by creating wireless connections between radio-frequencies to transfer data that identifies and tracks objects. I’ve written previously about the growing “Internet of Things,” an idea that more and more everyday objects are becoming connected to the Web, and “smart” baggage claim tags are yet another example to add to this list. And as with many newly “connected” objects, the emergence of trackable luggage tags raises a new wave of security concerns.

The most obvious of these? If you can track your bag’s location, couldn’t someone else do the same? There is a potential that the ViewTag and its corresponding mobile app could be hacked. If a cybercriminal wanted to locate you by tracking your bag or perhaps reroute the tag to a different end destination, it’s a possibility that someone with the right knowhow could break in and either steal or manipulate a tag’s data.

Despite the potential security concerns, RFID is here to stay. Whether it’s smart baggage claim tags, company ID cards that track your whereabouts in your place of work, or other innovative tracking systems, the benefits of RFID seem to outweigh the security threats. The companies using RFID for their benefit will eventually have to take the lead in educating and addressing security concerns, but until then, it’s up to consumers to take proactive steps to maximize their safety.

  • Create a strong password for your mobile app. To avoid having your mobile app hacked and allowing someone to snoop in on your luggage’s whereabouts, create strong login details that utilize upper and lower case letters, special characters, and numbers. Also, change your password regularly—I recommend at least twice a year.
  • Don’t connect to public Wi-Fi. I wrote last week about the dangers of connecting to public Wi-Fi, especially around the busy holiday travel season. Public Wi-Fi networks are particularly vulnerable to hackers and cyber snoops, so avoid using your mobile app to check on the status of your luggage when using an unsecure wireless connection.
  • Keep calm and carry-on. The ViewTag is a great innovation and will surely cut down on lost baggage as it seeks to do, but no new technology is bullet proof. When traveling with valuables, keep them close in a carry-on bag. It’s never a good idea to pack your grandmother’s pearls or brand new digital camera in your checked luggage. Carrying on your valuables is the best way to ensure that your most precious possessions remain yours forever.

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Gary Davis

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