German supermarket announces introduction of RFIDs

By EDRi · May 21, 2003

Last month, during a congress on supermarket logistics, German supermarket Metro AG announced the introduction of RFIDs to boost store efficiency and eliminate long checkout queues. The announcement comes at a time of heightened public awareness of the negative privacy-implications of this new track & trace technology. In March, clothing designer Benetton announced plans to weave radio frequency ID chips into its garments to track its clothes worldwide. After massive protests the plans were postponed and Benetton made it clear that they will first do more research on the use of RFID technology for its garments including an assessment of the related privacy-effects.

RFID-tags are becoming smaller and cheaper everyday. In general the tags are passive. That means they don’t have a power supply, and can’t transmit any information themselves. They receive the energy they need to transmit the stored information from the readers which receive the information. The drawback of this technology is that this small amount of energy is not enough to perform encryption algorithms or any kind of access control mechanisms. So the information stored on the tag is normally readable to any reader using the same frequency as the tag (usually 13,56 MHz).The main privacy-concern about the tags is that individual consumption-patterns can be tracked and traced by any outsider with a reader. The only possibility to protect your privacy would be to remove or destroy the smart tags. A difficult task if the tag is invisibly small and woven into the garment or vulcanized into the soles of shoes.

In the last few years an increasing number of prototypes of RFID-technology were tested in real world situations. Beginning of 2003 Gillette announced the order of 500 million RFID-tags with the intent to attach them to products such as razors and razor blades. In combination with smart shelves they will be used to track inventory and send managers automatic alerts when stocks are low. Just a few days later, on 14 January 2003 Michelin announced that they are also introducing Radio Frequency Tire Identification Technology. Finally, many public libraries in the world have started using RFIDs for the identification and handling of books. Amongst them the newly built public library in Vienna, Austria.

Consumer groups and privacy advocates wish that RFID are either removed of disabled after purchasing a product and that a label will notify consumers that a product has an RFID embedded. Such ground rules can prevent RFIDs from becoming a tracking device instead of a logistical tool.

German supermarket introduces RFIDs (18.04.2003)

Boycott Benetton

RFID tags: Big Brother in small packages

(Contribution by Andreas Krisch, EDRI-member VIBE!AT)