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Customers say: "We aren't your guinea pigs"
Hidden spychips cover-up of Metro-Group's "Payback" customer cards
Customers say: "We aren't your guinea pigs"
FoeBuD unveils: Hidden spychips in Metro-Group's "Future Store Payback" customer cards
It is technically possible that customers of the "Extra" supermarket in Rheinberg, Germany, be spied upon without them noticing it. Whoever enters the supermarket has to pass a gate with two huge antennas, and a computer can keep track of who has entered the store and bought what at which time. The technical prerequisites are there. That the Metro Group won't use these data is a question of believing them - but trust has been shattered after they tried to cover up this scandal in the past few days. Among others, the chains Galeria Kaufhof, real, Praktiker, MediaMarkt and Saturn belong to Metro. The Future Store in Rheinberg is a pilot project for the introduction of RFID in retail sales.
What is RFID?
This new dimension in eavesdropping was made possible through so-called RFID tags: Tiny computer chips under the price tags on a number of goods in the "Future Store", which is the actual name of that supermarket, which can be read out by antennas without any physical contact. An antenna sends out an electrical impulse and the chips respond by sending out a unique number stored in their memory. And through this number one can find information about the item, like price, product etc., in Metro's databases. These chips are supposed to replace the old bar code and don't have to be awkwardly held to a scanner with a light beam but can be read out by radiowave transmission. Practical for retailers - unnoticeable for customers. And these chips are being tested in the Future Store, that is what it was built for.
Scandal #1: Hidden spychips in customer cards
Questionable is the use of the spychips when also the customer cards can be read without physical contact and unnoticed by the customer, for then there is no limit any longer to spying on people. And this step has now been made by the Metro Group.
Quite by accident German privacy advocates discovered on Sunday, February 1, that the "Payback" customer card of the Metro Future Store contains such a spychip. Together with their guest, consumer advocate Katherine Albrecht (CASPIAN, Boston, Mass., USA), Rena Tangens and padeluun and a group of other members of FoeBuD, a German privacy and civil rights organisation, had visited the Future Store and been received officially by project leader Dr Gerd Wolfram and press officer Albrecht von Truchsess. And on the whole tour they had not been adverted to this prickly aspect. But this is the exact core of the issue: illegitimate linkage of data on the RFID tags to individuals, which had always been denied by Metro in the past. (Find details and links on our website: http://www.foebud.org/rfid)
Scandal #2: Spychips on price tags cannot be deactivated
Also on leaving the store the spychips on the tagged items retain their unique number. The device which the representatives from Metro call a "deactivator" is only a pacifier. Some parts of the chips on the price tags will be overwritten with zeros - the actual important information, the unique number given to only this one chip stays alive. Every package of Kraft "Philadelphia" cream cheese has a number that is unique worldwide. Deletion or deactivation of the chips is impossible - they will be only partially overwritten. That Metro does not use this eternal number has to be believed them. But how long will they go on not using it? And when will this technology inspire the greed of other companies, since it is available already? The "Payback" cards of the Future Store are used even today by customers of other supermarkets belonging to the "Payback"-consortium.
Scandal #3: Metro talk themselves out of it
The consumer advocates are even more alarmed by the fact that Metro tries to deceive the public. After their visit, Metro put little signs on a CD and DVD shelf on which they mention the use of the RFID chip in the "Future Store Payback" card. Then Metro claimed these signs had been hanging there "for some time". They sent some photographs of the shelf to FoeBuD. Accidentally, FoeBuD had taken a photo of that shelf during their tour on Saturday - and there it can be seen that the signs had not yet been hanging there then. FoeBuD sees this as evidence that Metro's representatives are aware of the critical implications of having secretly equipped customers with spychips. Compare the photos at http://www.foebud.org/rfid
Demand: Stop immediately!
At the Metro Future Store in Rheinberg a field test is getting out of control. FoeBuD and CASPIAN appeal to the Metro Group to stop their RFID- and customers cards tests.
Furthermore, we appeal to Metro to finance talks within a body made up of representatives from the industry, privacy advocates, consumer advocates and civil rights advocates, in which rules and laws for the introduction of a socially acceptable use of RFID technology can be developed before any further tests are made.
We demand that the ongoing trial be stopped by February 16, 2004, 08:00 a.m. (opening time of the shop), the technical appliances for the RFID trial be taken down and the RFID tags be removed from the customer area.
We await a pledge to the willingness to finance of the above mentioned board of debate by February 20, 2004.
Photo material can be found on http://www.foebud.org/rfid
For further information go to: www.foebud.org/rfid
FoeBuD e.V. Marktstrasse
18 D-33602 Bielefeld
on METRO Group Future Store Initiative: