Metro Future Store
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The METRO "Future Store"
Special Report

Scandal: 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:

From: Fernandez Marcos <F********>
To: "'****'" <****>
Date: Monday, February 2, 2004, 5:00:24 PM
Subject: RFID at DVDs

Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren,
wir bitten um Weiterleitung dieser email an Katherine Albrecht.

Dear Katherine,
you asked me about the marking of the RFID function at the DVDs and Videos in the Future Store. Enclosed you can find some pictures which show how we have signed the RFID function. I will send it in various emails.

Best regards and have a nice trip to the UK

Albrecht von Truchsess

<<IMG_0003.JPG>>  <<IMG_0001.JPG>>  <<IMG_0002.JPG>>

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.

Photo taken by FoeBuD on Saturday

A single, generic sign disclosing presence of RFID tags on DVDs and videos

Click for closeup - only one sign is visible

Photo sent by METRO on Monday

New signs have been added, reading "The enablement of all film trailers should be done through the RFID-Chip on your Extra Future Card."

Click for closeup - now there are additional signs

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."

My Response

I wrote back to Mr. von Truchsess to allow him to admit that the signs had just gone up.

-----Original Message-----
From: FoeBuD e.V. [mailto:***]
Sent: Tuesday, February 03, 2004 3:42 AM
To: Truchsess Albrecht von
Cc: Wolfram Gerd, Dr.; Fernandez Marcos
Subject: Re: RFID at DVDs (From Katherine Albrecht)

Dear Mr. von Truchseß:

Thank you for your response. As I indicated this morning when we spoke by phone, I had just made the surprising discovery that Metro is using RFID tags in its Extra Future Card and asked you to specifically address two questions before I leave for London.

1. Where does Metro inform customers of the fact that the card contains an embedded RFID tag? I asked you to roughly translate the section of the brochure and application (that accompany each card) where this is disclosed.

2. What are the technical specifications of the RFID tag in Metro's card (i.e., manufacturer, frequency and approximate read range)?

Your email below does not address those questions, but instead shows signage in your store reading "Freischaltung für alle Film-Trailer bitte über den RFID-Chip in Ihrer Extra Future Card." As a point of clarification, could you let me know how long those signs have been in place?

I look forward to your response to these three questions. As I am fielding media queries on this subject, it is important that I receive your answer before noon tomorrow (Tuesday, February 3). I am cc:ing your colleagues Dr. Wolfram and Mr. Fernandez on this email, in the expectation that one of you should be able to answer these queries by then.

Thanks in advance,
Katherine Albrecht, CASPIAN

p.s. Please reply to the FoeBuD address above (*** as I am not
sure what my email access in London will be.

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.

From: Truchsess Albrecht von <*********>
To: "'***'" <***>
Date: Tuesday, February 3, 2004, 5:46:45 PM
Subject: FW: RFID at DVDs (From Katherine Albrecht)

=================Original message text===============
Dear Katherine,

You asked us some more questions about RFID:

1. We inform our customers about the RFID function in the Future Card where it is in progress: At the DVD, CD and Video trailer station. There you can watch any film when you hold your customer card against the reader. We have done this to ensure the youth protection and we can say today that RFID is very helpful in ensuring a 100%-protection. 

We applied the signs about the RFID usage at the DVDs etc. some time ago, but I do not have the exact date. It must have been about the same time as we applied all the other signs reg. RFID. Since there is no other function of the RFID chip in the card there is no necessity to inform about it at any other point in the Future Store. It is as we have told you and every other customer: We inform about RFID whereever it is applied in the store. And again: There is no connection between customer and product data via RFID in the Future Store. This also counts for the Future Card - no matter if you use it inside or outside the Future Store.

2. technical specifications: reading distance is the same as in the RFID tags on the items. Also the same frequency: 13.56 MHz. Manufacturer: Philips. The number stored on the RFID chip is the customer number which is also printed physically on the Future Card. So there is no other information on the card as in any other Payback loyalty card with a barcode.

Best regards, take care

Albrecht von Truchsess
Metro-Str. 1
D-40235 Duesseldorf
tel:    0049 (0) 211 6886 ****
fax:    0049 (0) 211 6886 ****

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Photographs © Peter Ehrentraut, FoeBuD e.V., used with permission.