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Where do I find RFID?

Small RFID tracking chips see increasing use all around us. Whether you are driving a car (ignition keys, immobiliser systems), or are a lumber jack dragging trees about in a forest, or whether you use a skiing lift, visit a soccer game, or wish to register and track the yoghurt cups in the shelves of the small shop you own – almost everywhere you will encounter commercial solutions for the use of RFID once you start looking. And mostly for the sole benefit of the users, i.e. the companies. Personnel, customers and privacy are the ones that bear the risks.

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Usage examples:

Some Notes on this List

  • This list is not and cannot be complete.
  • Nevertheless, if you find RFID tags used in other contexts, we would like to hear from you at stoprfid@foebud.org. Please include details such as where and when you have found the chip (and how you found it).
  • If you are looking for specific applications, a specific company or the like in this page, you may find the search functionality of your browser helpful. (Ctrl-F or, for Mac users, Command-F)
  • Not all applications of RFID are a threat to privacy or other human or civil rights or your personal freedom. We try to categorise our examples accordingly, also including the important aspects of workplace ergonomics and radiance pollution.

Where is RFID used?

Retail Stores

The RFID lobby organisations have announced their goal of getting RFID into everything in the upcoming years: Every power socket, every shoe, every pack of cigarettes and every cup of yoghurt. Each product sold with an RFID chip is a step into this direction. Therefore, retail stores are a prime target and partner for the RFID producers. There are already a number of stores using RFID to monitor and track the movements of customers around the building, including information such as which customer passed which ad displays and whether they bought the advertised products. (This has been reported to take place in markets of German retail chain Marktkauf.)

It is important to realise that the RFID chips are not simply junk when they leave the market (together with the goods they have been placed on): They remain active, i.e. when they receive a broadcast message, they will identify themselves. At the moment, this is not yet a privacy problem, because there is no dense enough network of stations sending such broadcasts yet. But building such a network is completely feasible and the process can only be detected with special equipment. Soon, every petrol pump will know which type of chewing gum we are carrying in our pockets and display corresponding ad material.

  • By March 22nd, 2005, the Düsseldorf Metro group announced their plans to install RFID technology in 250 retail stores all over Germany. Metro is the owner popular retail chains such as Real or Saturn. The number of suppliers putting RFID into their products is to be increased from 22 to 100, according to Metro chairman Zygmunt Mierdorf. (Source: dpa) Metro plans to equip all 800 retail stores and warehouses with RFID by 2007. (Source: Chip 03/2004) Forrester Research expects RFID to replace bar codes world wide by 2008. (Source; Chip 02/2004)
  • The US-American retail giant WalMart forces all her major suppliers to incorporate RFID tags into the merchandise starting with 2005.
  • In March 2004, the Spanish association of corrugated cardboard manufacturers contacted FoeBuD e.V. for information on RFID. They had been asked about the possibility of including RFID directly in the cardboard-material.
  • Also in March 2004, we have received news about a textile warehouse testing RFID sewn directly into clothing, e.g. into a shirt's collar, which would make it difficult to remove by the customer. The source did unfortunately not name the company.
  • In February 2004, the Paderborn company Wincor Nixdorf exhibited so-called “smart shelves”, which read the RFID chips of goods stored in them. The store's computers are thus precisely informed about whether a jacket or shirt is in its place, in the changing room or has been placed onto the wrong rack. Says Wincor Nixdorf marketing director Joachim Pinhammer: “RFID is an important topic, and we want to take part.” (Source: Neue Ruhr Zeitung, 3 Feb. 2004)
  • Metro AG placed an RFID chip into their customers' loyalty cards – Katherine Albrecht assumes they have been the first company ever to do that. After receiving public protests by FoeBuD e.V., Metro in February 2004 offered 10.000 customers to exchange these cards against others without RFID technology. More about this ...
  • Starting in April 2003, Metro AG tests the use of RFID in different places in their “Extra Future Store” in Rheinberg near Duisburg. RFID tags are found under the price labels of “Philadelphia” cream cheese (produced by Kraft) and “Pantene Pro V Shampoo” (by Procter & Gamble). “Gillette Mach 3” razor blades contain RFID tags inside the cover. The RFID tags placed onto CDs and DVDs in the “Future Store“ carry information on whether the item has been paid for. More RFID tags are used inside the warehouse without reaching the customers. (Source: Guided tour by the Metro AG.)
  • In summer 2003, the British supermarket chain Tesco took automated digital photos of everyone picking up a pack of Gillette razor blades (perhaps to read the fine print) to identify thieves at the check-out. Facing public outcry and loud calls for boycott because of this general suspicion against honest customers, the experiment was cancelled. (Source: CASPIAN)

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Admission Tickets

RFID in admission tickets are especially dangerous from a privacy point of view: Using the argument of easier and faster entrance checks, the radio chips are embedded into the tickets and allow tracking the visitors' every step. It is very easy to (permanently) record which visitor has been attending which lectures or who met whom in which room and for how long. Combining this information with the closed circuit systems already in place all too often, it is just as possible to let your employer know which workers' union speaker you listened to, as it is feasible (and economically attractive) to hand out the tickets for next year only to those visitors who spent the most money at the local food stalls.

  • The tickets for the soccer World Cup 2006 games will contain RFID chips. These chips are supposed to ward off hooligans – if you've been standing in the area from which the smoke grenade has been thrown, prepare yourself for a visit from your local law inforcement agencies... (Source: DFB, 2004)

    Helmut Bäumler, former data protection official for the state of Schleswig-Holstein, commented in an NDR broadcast in February 2004: “Which persons are in the stadium, that is what the system is all about. But as much as I understand the desire to recognise and send away soccer rowdies early enough: This example shows clearly where this technology leads to, namely, the surveillance of individual persons. Next time, it won't be soccer games but a demonstration against environmental pollution or what have you, and it will continue. The soccer example shows the real background, the topic is surveillance.”

  • In December 2002, on the 16th congress of the Chinese Communist Party, every delegate received a surveillance chip to be carried at the lapel of his jacket. With this technology, the party controlled who stayed for how long and where. (Source: NDR, February 2004)

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Train and Bus Tickets

When RFID is used to charge for public transportation, the possibility of tracking a person's movement is obvious: Since (often) every journey is charged individually, the time and the route taken are already available in electronic form, conveniently linked to a specific person. Travelling anonymously is a thing of the past. The German railway company Deutsche Bahn (DB) recently placed these bugs even into their rebate cards.

  • To be more precise: The “Bahncard 100,” the luxury version of the “Bahncard”, which allows free usage of the railway and many other public transportation systems as well as car-sharing for one year, has an RFID chip embedded since April 2005. What is really bad about this step is that the DB did not communicate the fact to their customers. Additionally, there is no choice: The Bahncard 100 is simply not available without the spy chip – other Bahncard versions are available even without a photo, for example. Currently, there is no reason why the BC100 customers should be tracked, but when other train tickets or rebate cards are equipped with RFID as well, all systems tracking their use will pick up the BC100 holders as well. This could be a control freak's surveillance paradise: German railway stations already have a lot of CCTV monitoring. More ...
  • The season tickets of regional transport provider Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Ruhr (VRR, selling over a million tickets per year) also contain an RFID chip since February 2004. (Source: Chaostal) Unlike the railway tickets, these are sold in large quantities. According to an (as yet) unconfirmed rumour, the reading devices of a retail store in a town where the VRR is operating picked up confusing radio data which were traced back to these tickets: the antennas in the store's entranceway actively polled the tickets of pupils waiting at the bus stop in front of the store and couldn't compute them.

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ID-cards

From a surveillance point of view, RFID in ID cards are especially attractive: Usually, to track people by the radio trails of their belongings (shoes, candy bars, …), the observer must first establish a link between the numbers of these items and the identity of their owners, for example when they payed for them with a credit card, or by querying a database “who bought these shoes where, when and with whose customer card?” ID cards by their very nature directly identify their carrier, so this intermediate step is not necessary. Thus the absolute minimum requirement should be to have this information encrypted so that only properly authorised personnel has access to the data. It may be difficult, however, to define authorised personnel: In general, it is certainly a good idea to have police officers check ID papers, but the possibility of a reading device secretly recording all the participants of a political assembly or demonstration could stop people from exercising their basic democratic rights and is therefore clearly undesirable.



  • German passports issued since November 2005 contain an RFID chip which includes biometric data. Currently, this includes all data also found in the printed passport, including a digitalised version of the photograph. The fingerprint is planned to be included from early 2007 onwards, but at least in encrypted form. More about the ePass, as these passports are called, can be found in the laudation of the BigBrotherAwards 2005.

    Despite the controversies, the concept is already being exported, for example to Paris, Abu Dhabi, and Luxemburg. (Source: Bundesdruckerei)

    The ARD political TV programme Monitor featured the ePass on February 2nd 2005, showing how insecure the technology is. There is no encryption of the personal data stored on the chip. At least, however, the new law does not allow a central database of the passports and IDs of the EU. But obviously, there is no control over what the countries visited with the passport do with the acquired data. There are plans to form a central register of all the EU institutions having access to the data, to reduce the risk of abuse. Technical specifications of the chips used have not been published, but it is known that the German passports (and, according to the official plans, all electronic passports issued in the EU) can only be read after having scanned the printed version of the information. This restricting mechanism is apparently not planned for US passports. The new technology makes passports significantly more expensive: German passports used to cost 29 Euros, the new version costs 59 Euros. (US: probably around 75 Euros, i.e. about 85 Dollars; GB: 103 Euros, i.e. about 45 Pounds) (Sources: Monitor, BMI [the German ministry of the interior])

    The Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik (federal agency for security and safety in information technology) has funded a field study with biometric systems in which current RFID based technology led to error rates of up to 23 percent. “The strategy is: First introduce the visa system, then we will already have biometric data in German passports. And once the technology is established in the relevant offices anyway, the other ID cards will probably follow suit.” says federal data protection officer Peter Schaar. (Source: AP, c't and WDR)

  • January 1st, 2004: FoeBuD e.V. (Bielefeld) happens to find an RFID tag in the Payback customers' card of Metro's "Future Store" in Rheinberg. “It is entirely possible that Metro does not process the data from these radio chips. But if the customer has not been informed in advance, obtaining and saving personal data is illegal already,” says Thilo Weichert from the Landeszentrum für Datenschutz (state data-protection center) in Kiel, Schleswig-Holstein. “There are antennas in the entrance area of the shop which are able to read both the products' and the cards' chips.” After public protests from FoeBuD and a number of data privacy officials, Metro made an offer to some 10.000 customers who already carried the bugged cards to exchange them for conventional ones. It is currently unknown how many of the bugged cards are still at large.
  • An increasing number if universities and colleges places RFID chips into their student ID cards. These are usually read out in libraries and in the cafeterias, when the ID cards are placed in front of the reading machines. The very same ID cards could be used, with antennas in door frames etc., to monitor students more closely: “I know you did read that book.” – “No, sorry, but you didn't pass this course, you were late way too often, and for no good reason. You were just hanging around in the student union's room, weren't you?.” – “With healthier food you might pass the exam next time.”

    We know about RFID in student cards at the TU Berlin and the University of Bielefeld. We'd like to hear about others. More about surveillance in universities can be found in the BigBrotehrAwards 2004 laudation for the closed circuit TV monitoring.

  • Did you recently receive a new employee ID card which you no longer need to pull out of your pocket to open the doors? Those also work with RFID. Was the introduction of these radio transmitting cards agreed upon with your staff association? Has your shop's privacy counsellor been informed about all the details? Have you yourself been informed about the privacy implications? After all, these devices could tell management not only when you came and left (a perfectly reasonable thing to do), but also with whom you spent your time during the lunch break, how long you've been to the toilet and whether you washed your hands afterwards. (Don't dismiss this last one as a joke of ours: such a product already exists and is marketed under the brand name “iHygiene”.
  • Many ski resorts use RFID in their tickets. This is very convenient for the visitors who can simply leave their passes in the pocket instead of fumbling about with their gloves, skis and sticks. But if you do not wish to leave a long trail of where you spent your evenings, though, you should leave the ticket at the hotel when you don't need it.

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Subcutaneous Implants

RFID tags planted under the skin – a horror scenario made up by privacy activists? No. It's been reality for a long time. And not only for animals.



  • 32 year old Steffen Fröschle from Ostfildern-Ruit near Stuttgart, system administrator, seems to be the first German who has an RFID implant in his wrist to unlock his doors. (Source: Focus 47/November 2005) As Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre report in their book “Spychips”, this has been done a couple of times in the USA as well.
  • Some discotheques, for example the Baja Beach Club in Barcelona (Spain), offers its VIP guests to get an RFID transponder implanted in their arms to automatically charge for the drinks without the need for traditional coasters. Obviously, these gadgets remain active outside the club as well. The report of CNN correspondent Robyn Curnow gained quite some notoriety after she had an RFID chip implanted under her skin for research purposes – and had to undergo somewhat complicated surgery afterwards to have it removed again. Her resume: “So, now I have a small microchip the size of a large piece of Basmati rice in a specimen jar as a souvenir -- I also have eight-millimeter scar on my upper left arm. [W]hen I feel the damaged skin on my arm, I think, for me, it was probably too high a price to pay for becoming a member of the Baja Beach Club.“ For her full report, go to the CNN website.(And for more sources, see Heise. de [in German].)

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Sport

"Tracking" means to be able to tell at what time the item an RFID chip is attached to is or has been where. This doesn't make direct sense in warehousing only, but also in sports. After all, one wants to know after a marathon who really came in first (or 257th).

  • For some time now a firm calledMikatiming offers the ChampionChip on the German market. The little plastic badge containing the RFID chip can be attached directly to the shoe or, with a band, to the ankle of the runner. When he runs over a red mat which is part of the equipment Mikatiming offers organisers of sports events, this chip will be read out: for in the mat lies an RFID reader.
    Runners can buy their own re-usable chip from Mikatiming for some 30 Euros. Translated from their FAQ: "The data you give when ordering your chip will be added to a database. Changes will be incorporated immediately." Among such "changes" are of course your results from the events where you have taken part. Which are delivered to the organisers of the event automatically with (the connection to) the Mikatiming datebase which is needed to identify the runners.
    Those who don't have a chip of their own can rent one for the event he wishes to participate in. In fact he has to rent one, if he wants to be counted, because there is no other time measurement when the ChampionChip system is in use. After all it is meant to simplify things.
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Bank Notes

RFID in bank notes are not simply an additional anti-counterfeit measure, they also mark the end of anonymous cash payments and allow would-be-thugs to select their victims based on the amount of money they carry …

  • The European Central Bank (ECB) has had plans to embed RFID chips in the Euro notes for some years. At the moment, the primary obstacle to using Hitachis μChip technology (0.4 by 0.4 by 0.06 millimetres) seems to be that they would double the production cost of the notes by an additional seven cents per piece. (Source: Primidi) Embedding RFID into bank notes would probably imply that your ATM (which knows who you are) would jot down the serial numbers of the notes it handed out.

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Books

Numerous libraries use RFID in book covers. These tags make sorting and registering books much easier, especially finding misplaced books. Some even have self-service checkouts and book return stalls implemented.



  • Volkswagen sponsored five million Euros for the new joint library of the TU Berlin and the university of arts in Berlin. All their books contain an RFID chip which is used as a kind of navigation system. Finding misplaced books is a simpe task. (Source: Berliner Zeitung Online) We do not know for how long or by whom the resulting data is stored.

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Pet and Animal Marking

Cattle and other farm animals have received RFID tags for many years. These help to control the amount and kind of food, milk production, vaccination status etc., to count sheep and to make the origin and travel routes of farm animals more easily controllable. While large animals often carry RFID tags in ear clips, smaller animals and pets usually get transponders, enclosed in small glass capsules, injected under the skin.

  • After the big “Kampfhunde” discussion (meaning potentially inherently dangerous “fighting dogs“ like pit-bull) in Germany, a new law was passed in the summer of 2000, obliging many dog owners to have their pets marked with an RFID device. Usually, this chip is placed on the left side of the neck and can be scanned with portable readers by police officers, veterinarians, border control (e.g., when travelling to Great Britain or Switzerland) etc. Unfortunately, these chips use the same frequency and protocols as those on yoghurt cups or in the new passports. A dog owner in Münster refused to have his dog chipped for fear that this radio device could be used to track his own movements, and even went to court for this. We do not yet know the outcome of this discussion.

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Forestry

Timber is usually marked with RFID devices hammered into the logs. As long as the workers can be reasonably sure that they are not exposed to unusual amounts of radiation (for reading the ID tags – increasing the power is the easiest way of increasing the effective range) and that the RFID cannot be used to monitor their fulfilment of their duties, the use of RFID does not cause immediate privacy problems. The down side, of course, is that it makes forestry, economically speaking, more efficient, endangering jobs.



  • Cambium, a foresting company in the Odenwald, uses RFID to track timber from the forest to production since June 2004. The project has been realised by the DABAC GmbH, Heilbronn. (Source: Progress Software Home Page)

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Warehousing

Warehousing is an area were the use of RFID can make processes substantially easier (very much unlike the customers' area of a supermarket). It is obviously much more efficient to read the type and number of items by radio waves than by manually picking boxes apart – making a number of jobs, especially low-tech, unqualified ones, superfluous. Those still working in these warehouses are exposed to substantially higher levels of radiation, commonly known in Germany as “electro-smog”. The chips usually found in warehouse applications use frequencies different from the user area, so no direct privacy problems are immanent.

  • The entrepot of Galeria Kaufhof in Neuss-Norf tested RFID in 2003. Further details we do not know yet. (Source: FoeBuD inquiries 2003, verified by the Metro AG, who owns Galeria Kaufhof)
  • The Gerry Weber clothing warehouse in Osnabrück uses RFID, but removes the tags before shipping, because “the customers won't accept them”, according to a company spokesman. (Source: FoeBuD phone call to Gerry Weber, autumn 2003) As Ecin.de reported on October 29th 2003: ”Kaufhof (Metro AG) will perform a three month practical test in cooperation with Gerry Weber on the use of RFID for identification and securement of textiles. The pilot project, which is scientifically supervised by the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML) and the Euro Marketing Institute, tracks the movement of the goods, starting from the l ogistics shop Meyer&Meyer in Osnabrück via the Kaufhof distribution centre in Neuss-Norf to two retail stores in Münster and Wesel.”

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The RFID-Industry

News from the multi-million Euro market with RFID. Prognoses, plans, figures, expectations, …

  • Mid-2004, Bodo Ischebeck, head of “Ident Solutions” at the chip manufacturer Infineon, forecasts that RFID would make the break-through in 2004 and then continue to conquer the whole goods market. Tom Groth, head visionary at Sun Microsystems (which have an RFID test centre): “Just from the requirements of the two market giants WalMart and Metro for their test projects, the price of RFID tags has dropped from two Euros to about 20 Cent. Three or four more companies, and the price will go below the magic border of two cents.” (Source: Chip 02/2004)
  • Microsoft (Redmond, USA) announces on January 4th 2004 that they want to take part in the RFID market. They will create software to get the data from RFID readers into enterprise applications, in real time, as well as try to make Windows CE a major choice for the readers themselves. In Denmark, Microsoft co-operates with KiMs, the largest Danish snack producer, in a pilot project tracking the goods in real time. This enables detailed data about past sales, ad campaign efficiencies and prognosis. (Source: Computerwelt Austria, 9 Feb. 2004) Microsoft also provided the Software for the Metro Future Store. (Source: Microsoft)
  • EPCglobal, being the international group promoting the adoption of RFID tags and responsible for the standards used by most RFID producers, contracted US company VeriSign in January 2004 to set up and operate a central directory of RFID numbers. VeriSign is the organisation also responsible for the central database resolving internet addresses. This database will hold the data of all goods equipped with RFID by EPC members. In 2004, these were some 100 companies; with the growth of RFID usage, it could easily become 10.000 or more. (Source: Frankfurter Rundschau, 25 Jan. 2004) Comment FoeBuD: Contrast this with the Metro statement: “those RFID data are only ever used internally.”
  • Already in 2003, more than 91 million US Dollar were spent on RFID and closely related technology, according to an ecin report. Most prominently, WalMart and the US department of defense push RFID world wide. Producers and merchants are of course quick to fulfil the big players' demands. The market volume of RFID is expected to grow to some 1.3 billion US Dollars by 2008. After the pallets and outer packing have been equipped with RFID, the next step is to put RFD into the individual products. Experts estimate that in 2007, 875 million US Dollar will be spent on RFID hardware, most of this by the producers and their distributors. (Source: ecin, 7.1.2004)
  • June 25th, 2003: The MIT Auto-ID Center announces that it has assisted 103 companies. The Auto-ID Center is the place where, with the help of international companies like Gillette, Unilever and Procter & Gamble, the RFID infrastructure was created. It can be assumed that these companies will also be the first adopters of the technology. (Source: MIT website)

Some more producers of RFID chips:

  • Philips
  • Philips Semiconductors
  • Texas Instruments (TI)
  • Applied Digital Solutions (www.adsx.com)
  • Infineon
  • Intel

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2006-01-28 22:38
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