Metro Future Store
The METRO "Future Store"
METRO's Clumsy Coverup Attempt
[Note: To understand this incident, you may want to read about the Payback loyalty card scandal as background. ]
I toured the Future Store store on Saturday, January 31, 2004, and discovered the RFID tracking device hidden in METRO's Payback loyalty card on Sunday (February 1). On Monday morning (February 2), I called METRO spokesman Albrecht von Truchsess for an explanation.
Since Mr. von Truchsess seemed flustered and unable to answer my questions, I asked him to get back to me by the end of the day with two specific pieces of information:
(1) an explanation of how shoppers were notified of the RFID tags in METRO's Payback cards
(2) the technical specs of the tags, including read range, frequency, and manufacturer
I was leaving for England the following day and did not have regular email access, so I requested that Mr. von Truchsess email his response to me in care of German privacy organization FoeBud, who had hosted my trip to Germany.
METRO Spokesman Responds
That afternoon, at 5:00:24 PM (now there's German precision for you!) Mr. Von Truchsess sent me the following email:
This email was followed by several others containing JPG image files as attachments. In total, Mr. von Truchsess sent me three messages containing eight images.
Here's how METRO Claims it Notified Customers
Mr. von Truchsess's message appeared to be a total non-sequiter. What did DVDs or videos have to do with the two questions I had asked him? Confused, I opened up the images he had sent and saw the following:
The other images were more of the same. Apparently this was METRO's attempt to illustrate how they told their customers about the RFID tags in their METRO Payback loyalty cards.
The Problem with METRO's Explanation
Where to begin? First of all, signs on a DVD display (at the opposite end of the store from where the cards are given out) is hardly adequate notice to customers that METRO has planted an RFID tracking device in their loyalty cards.
As we point out on the Payback loyalty card scandal page, no other mention of the RFID tags is made anywhere, including in the loyalty card application form where it should clearly be disclosed.
But there's one problem to this explanation that's even worse:
The signs hadn't been there two days before when I toured the store.
When members of FoeBuD and I saw these images from METRO, our first response was, "Hey, wait a minute, those signs weren't there on Saturday when we toured the store!" We remembered seeing a sign reading "There are RFID tags on these DVD's and videos" -- with no mention of the "Extra Future Card."
Evidence that the Signs were Added after the Fact
Fortunately, we had both a photographer and a camera woman with us on the tour, so it was a simple matter to review the images of the DVD display from Saturday. Sure enough, we had one image that matched almost exactly with an image METRO sent us.
As we suspected, our images contained only the generic RFID signs, not the signs Mr. von Truchsess had sent me. In other words, we had evidence that the signs had been added between Saturday and Monday.
This whole incident smelled like a coverup -- and a pretty clumsy one, at that.
The shelf sign on the left is what we saw when we visited the Future Store on Saturday. It simply says "CD's, DVD's and Videos in this display contain RFID tags."
The sign on the right was added after the fact and was NOT there when we toured the store. It reads "The enablement of all film trailers should be done through the RFID-Chip on your Extra Future Card."
I wrote back to Mr. von Truchsess to allow him to admit that the signs had just gone up.
Mr. von Truchsess responds
He wrote back to tell me that the signs had been there since "about the same time as we applied all the other signs reg. RFID." During my tour he indicated that length of time as "months."
He also clarifies that METRO does not disclose the RFID tags in customers' loyalty cards anywhere other than on the signs near the DVD's.
This confirmed our suspicions -- customers had been kept completely in the dark about the whole thing.
The Spychips website is a project of CASPIAN, Consumers
Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering.
© 2003-2006 Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre. All Rights Reserved.
Photographs © Peter Ehrentraut, FoeBuD e.V., used with permission.