Metro Future Store
Special Report!

background…
Future Store Overview
Store Partners/Goals

tour report…
Katherine's Trip
Shopping Carts
RFID on Products
Other RFID in Store
Metro Photos

scandals…
Tag "Deactivation"
RFID in Loyalty Card
METRO Coverup

results…
Media Coverage
German Protest
METRO Reponse



The METRO "Future Store"
Special Report

Scandal: The "Undead Machine"
RFID Tag Deactivation Station that does not Deactivate Tags



Scandal Overview

The METRO Future Store has boasted for some time about its unique RFID tag "deactivator" that can supposedly disable tags before consumers leave the store. The idea is that deactivated tags will be impossible for anyone to read outside of the store, so a consumer's purchases cannot be remotely identified after purchase.

The problem is it doesn't work.

There was so much hype around METRO's "deactivator" that it was one of the main things I wanted to see on my tour of the METRO Future Store.  Imagine my shock at discovering this device does NOT deactivate the most crucial element of the tags!

This picture shows what the deactivation kiosk looks like.
The red "X" is an RFID tag reader.





METRO's Deactivation Claim

Here is what METRO promises in the brochure it gives to customers:

Actual text scanned from a METRO Future Store brochure titled "RFID: A New Technology For Your Shopping Experience." (To view the full brochure, click here:  inside  outside)

These claims about the "De-Activator" kiosk are grossly misleading. While the kiosk does overwrite the barcode information, it leaves key identifying information on the tags "live." Read on to see how.



The Deactivator that Doesn't Deactivate

In this photo, Dr. Gerd Wolfram, Metro's RFID Project Leader (in brown), shows us how the deactivator overwrites the programmable bar code information contained on each RFID tag with zeros.

I spend some time staring at the screen, waiting for the tag's unique ID number to overwrite as well, since that's  this data that poses the greatest privacy risk to consumers. After nothing happens for a few awkward moments,  Dr. Wolfram explains to me that Metro's technology does not allow for this number to be overwritten.



Surrounded by METRO executives, I am waiting for the deactivator to do what it claims and delete the unique information from their item-level RFID tags. I soon discover that the tags cannot be deactivated by the "Easy Deactivation" kiosk after all.


Evidence of the "Undead" RFID Tag

Below is an image of the deactivator kiosk screen after an RFID tag has supposedly been "deactivated."

The string of numbers across the top represents the read-writable portion of the tag. Before placing tagged products on the shelf, METRO programs the products' bar code numbers into this portion of the tag. Like a bar code, this data is not unique from item to item (i.e., all Pantene shampoo bottles have the same "barcode" number programmed into this part of their tags).

METRO's definition of "deactivating" the tag involves simply overwriting this "soft-coded" barcode data with zeros.  But the bar code number was never the real problem, since a generic bar code number does not allow for the linking of individual items  with consumers. The real problem is the string of numbers BELOW, where the tag's unique, hard-coded ID number resides. This number can still be read, even after this kiosk has done its job.




Screen shot of METRO's so-called "deactivation kiosk." This shows what the screen looks like moments after a
shopper presses the "deactivate" button on the touch screen.


Dr. Wolfram, the Metro research executive in charge of the Future Store project, has confirmed that the deactivation kiosk cannot overwrite, kill, or otherwise deactivate this hard-coded tag data.

This means that anyone with a 13.56 MHZ reader can capture the unique tag information -- even after the customer buys the product, believes she has "deactivated" the tag, and leaves the store.

Representing that the RFID tags have been killed when they have, in fact, not been, is far worse than simply not killing the tags at all. Providing consumers with a false (and potentially dangerous) sense of security is, in essence, fraudulent.



More Misleading Tag Claims from METRO

In another astonishing misstatement, METRO's RFID brochure tells customers that the tags affixed to their products become somehow inoperable outside of the store:




Actual text scanned from the METRO "Future Store" brochure titled
"RFID: A New Technology For Your Shopping Experience."
(To view the full brochure, click here:  inside  outside)

Of course, this claim is simply ridiculous. Days after purchasing tagged items (cream cheese, shampoo, and razor blades), I and members of FoeBud were able to read the tags affixed to them using an inexpensive 13.56 MHz RFID reader obtained over the internet (for around $300). I demonstrated this at the speech I gave in Bielefeld, hundreds of kilometers from Rheinberg where we had bought the items.

It's laughable to think that by simply leaving the store the RFID tags affixed to products become "inoperable." This notion is so ludicrous that it prompted one of my German colleagues (FoeBuD's insightful Claudia Fischer) to comment, "What is this claim supposed to mean? The tags die in light?"



Continue to the next scandal: RFID tags hidden in METRO's loyalty card >>

 

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