RFID – a dangerous fashion trend highlighted on German streets by FoeBuD

By EDRi · February 15, 2012

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Deutsch: [RFID – FoeBuD entdeckt gefährlichen Modetrend auf Deutschlands Straßen | https://www.unwatched.org/EDRigram_10.3_RFID_FoeBuD_entdeckt_gefaehrlichen_Modetrend_auf_Deutschlands_Strassen?pk_campaign=edri&pk_kwd=20120221]

On 11 January 2012, EDRi member FoeBuD staged an event on a shopping
street in Bielefeld, Germany, to raise awareness about RFID tags (“spy
chips”) in clothing.

FoeBuD played an important role in putting this issue on the political
agenda in 2003, when major German retailer Metro AG conducted RFID
field trials in a model supermarket, dubbed “Future Store”. While RFID
roll-outs in supermarkets have not occurred as quickly as expected at that
time (probably due in part to the concerns raised by privacy advocates),
recently the fashion industry seems to have taken a lead in introducing RFID
in goods sold to and carried by consumers.

RFID (“Radio Frequency Identification”) tags are tiny chips with an
antenna; they respond to a radio signal by transmitting back some
previously stored data including their unique serial number. Because
every single chip can be recognised by this ID, an RFID tag is not just
a contactless product bar code – it allows every individual item to be
identified. This makes RFID a very interesting technology for retail
logistics. But an RFID tag on a highly personal item (such as a piece of
clothing) could identify its owner if the owner’s personal data somehow
becomes available – if the owner makes a payment with a card, for
example. The owner’s data does not need to be stored on the chip itself,
it could be related to the chip’s ID via an external database. Personal
tracking becomes a distinct possibility, indeed a patent for this has
been granted in the US.

RFID data transmissions cannot be seen or heard, so FoeBuD looked for a
way to visualise the threat to any passer-by on a regular shopping
street. An RFID reader was connected to a portable computer and
projector, which beamed any RFID data that was read onto a “speech
bubble”-shaped banner. Suddenly it was there for anyone to see that
RFID-tagged clothes are effectively announcing an identity to every
“interested” party reading the device at a distance of up to 10 metres
(approximately, and depending on the type of RFID chip and reader).

At this event, FoeBuD targeted local fashion company Gerry Weber and
Italian fashion brand Peuterey (which had received a German Big Brother
Award from FoeBuD in 2011 for introducing RFID in a particularly
secretive way). Gerry Weber had actually been in contact with FoeBuD
about their RFID roll-out, but had ultimately chosen not to implement a
fundamental requirement: that the RFID tags be detached from every item
at the point of sale, without the customer having to ask for this. The
FoeBuD activists had alerted Gerry Weber about their action and were met by
the company’s CIO and RFID project leader, and later by the company’s
owner Gerhard Weber himself, who regrettably did not show a lot of
understanding towards the activists’ concerns. But at least it is
possible to tear off Gerry Weber’s RFID tags. In contrast, Peuterey does
not give any in-store information to its customers, and their RFID tags
are sown in beneath a label imprinted “do not remove this label”.

FoeBuD’s event and their demand that all RFID tags be removed or
permanently disabled at the point of sale were covered by the regional TV
and by newspapers across Germany. The group hopes to keep the momentum

FoeBuD’s coverage about their action, with pictures (only in German,

Coverage by regional public TV station WDR (only in German, 16.01.2012)

Privacy advocates discover RFID chips in clothing (only in German,

Why RFID tags are a danger to consumers (only in German, 18.01.2012)

BigBrotherAward 2011 to Peuterey (English summary, full speech in German)

BigBrotherAward 2003 to Metro (available in English and German)

Report on Metro’s “Future Store” and 2003/04 RFID scandal

US patent 7,076,441 on “Identification and tracking of persons using
RFID-tagged items in store environments”

(Contribution by Sebastian Lisken, EDRi member FoeBuD – Germany)