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Was MythBuster's RFID tale only a myth?

'Net Buzz By , Network World
September 04, 2008 05:37 PM ET

Network World - It all started when Adam Savage of MythBusters fame told a convention audience that legal bullies from the credit card industry had cowed Discovery Channel into scotching an episode of the show that was to have taken on RFID.

In the video, Savage says: "Here's what happened -- I'm not sure how much of this story I'm allowed to tell -- but I'll tell you what I know. We were going to do RFID -- on several levels: how reliable, how hackable, how trackable, etc. -- and one of our researchers called up Texas Instruments and they arranged a conference call."

He wasn't on the call himself, but continues: "Texas Instruments comes on along with chief legal counsel for American Express, VISA, Discover [Card], and everybody else. They absolutely made it really clear to Discovery [Channel] that they were not going to air this episode talking about how hackable this stuff was. Discovery backed way down, being a large corporation that depends upon the revenue of the advertisers. Now that [topic is] on Discovery's radar and they won't let us go near it. I'm sorry, it's just one of those things."

Savage's incendiary accusation went relatively unnoticed at the time, but caught fire on the Internet over the Labor Day weekend fanned by prominent placement on forums such as Slashdot and Digg. Days later it became clear Savage was considerably less knowledgeable about what transpired than he let on, although how much of his backtracking is backside-covering will be left open to speculation.

Here's his statement from last week as provided by Discovery Channel: "There's been a lot of talk about this RFID thing, and I have to admit that I got some of my facts wrong, as I wasn't on that story, and as I said on the video, I wasn't actually in on the call. . . . If I went into the detail of exactly why this story didn't get filmed, it's so bizarre and convoluted that no one would believe me, but suffice to say . . . the decision not to continue on with the RFID story was made by our production company, Beyond Productions, and had nothing to do with Discovery or their ad sales department."

That's not all that Savage got wrong. Jon Drummond, a PR guy at Discover Financial Services, tells me: "The statement that Discover participated in the call that was mentioned in the video is incorrect. Discover legal counsel did not participate in any such call." American Express told me the same thing.

And here's what Texas Instruments sent: "In June 2007, MythBusters was interested in pursuing some great myth-busting ideas for RFID. While in pursuit, they contacted Texas Instruments’ RFID Systems . . . for technical help and understanding of RFID in the contactless payments space. Some of the information that was needed to pursue the program required further support from the contactless payment companies, as they construct their own proprietary systems for security to protect their customers. To move the process along, Texas Instruments coordinated a conversation with Smart Card Alliance (SCA) which invited MasterCard and Visa, on contactless payments to help MythBusters get the right information.

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