Basic Cable for the Internet
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
  SmartWater again: more info, still the same questions
I referenced this particular product in a post below, and I still don't get it.

It's a "clear liquid" that contains unique identifiers, that part I get, but what I don't get is from this quote from the CEO of the company that made the stuff:

"It was born out of my frustration at arresting villains you knew full well had stolen property, but not being able to prove it," he said.

"Just catching someone with hot goods, or a police officer's gut belief a suspect is guilty, are not enough to secure a conviction -- so we turned to science."

How it's supposed to anything BUT prove that the goods are hot, and hopefully return them to the owner, is something I'm not clear on yet, any more than a serial number registered to an owner would do the same. Yes, the SmartWater may be harder to remove than a S/N sticker, but all you're proving is that the person in question came in contact with the object in question: it doesn't prove anything more than just catching them with the hot goods in their possession. It may be the case that they are claiming that the deterrent factor plus the tracking identification are the real benefits, but they're sure obfuscating by quotes like the above, which seem to imply that this product is the direct (not indirect) solution to the problem of catching someone with hot goods and not being able to secure a conviction.

Eh, who am I kidding: it's all advertising, and I'm complaining that it's not 100% revelatory. Might as well complain that the sun is releasing photons.

The other part that's not clear from the article is: if this SmartWater (or Tracer) works, and everyone starts using it, isn't it reasonable to assume that you--the innocent person with friends who happen to own stuff valuable enough to be tagged--will end up covered with the stuff? Just by going over to their house and brushing up against their belongings, touching their stereo, riding their car? And if this stuff stays on for months (as they claim), you're tagged with these chemicals or "microscopic particles" for just as long. There's no contextual information on how or when or why you came into contact with the articles in question.

Think about it this way, too: yes, the person who stole your stuff now has chemicals on him/her that reference your ownership. However, so does everyone in the evidence room, the police officers who came in contact with it while trying to preserve the chain of evidence, your ex-girlfriend, the stranger who took the picture of you standing in front of the World's Largest Ball of Twine with your chemically-tagged camera...

I like the idea of unique, registerable identifiers that I can put on my stuff. I don't like the idea of tagging everyone who touches my stuff (regardless of intentions or permission), any more than I would like the other side of this particular coin: tagging every individual with chemicals that would slough off onto everything they touch.

Here are some more great ideas if you get hold of this stuff:

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