'MythBusters' co-host backpedals on RFID kerfuffle

Adam Savage now says that he had his facts wrong when he spoke to an audience at the Last Hope conference in July.

This post was updated at 1:50 p.m. PDT to correct the spelling of Tory Belleci's name.

MythBusters co-host Adam Savage is stepping back from public comments suggesting that legal counsel from several credit card companies led the Discovery Channel to pull the plug on an episode dedicated to security holes in RFID.

At the Last HOPE conference in New York in July, Savage told a crowd of several thousand people that his theory on why MythBusters had not gone forward with a planned episode on RFID (radio frequency identification) hackability was that on a conference call to discuss the matter with technicians from Texas Instruments, the lawyers for the credit cards companies had put the hammer down on the show.

"Texas Instruments comes on along with chief legal counsel for American Express, Visa, Discover, and everybody else (co-host Tory Belleci and a MythBusters producer) were way, way out-gunned," Savage told the crowd, "and (the lawyers) absolutely made it really clear to Discovery that they were not going to air this episode talking about how hackable this stuff was, and Discovery backed way down, being a large corporation that depends upon the revenue of the advertisers. Now it's on Discovery's radar and they won't let us go near it."

But Texas Instruments spokeswoman Cindy Huff told CNET News on Tuesday that things had gone a bit different than Savage had said.

"In June 2007, MythBusters was interested in pursuing some great myth-busting ideas for RFID. While in pursuit, they contacted Texas Instruments' RFID Systems, who is a pioneer of RFID and contactless technology, for technical help and understanding of RFID in the contactless payments space," Huff said. "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) who invited MasterCard and Visa, on contactless payments to help MythBusters get the right information. Of the handful of people on the call, there were mostly product managers and only one contactless payment company's legal counsel member. Technical questions were asked and answered and we were to wait for MythBusters to let us know when they were planning on showing the segment. A few weeks later, Texas Instruments was told by MythBusters that the storyline had changed and they were pursuing a different angle which did not require our help."

And now, even Savage is saying that he got his facts wrong.

In a statement from Savage--who was speaking for himself at the conference and not appearing on behalf of the show--provided to CNET News by Discovery Channel on Wednesday, the MythBusters co-host retracted the substance of what he'd told the Last HOPE audience.

"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," Savage said in the statement. "Texas Instruments' account of their call with Grant and our producer is factually correct. 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."

From his statement, it's also logical to conclude that when he told the Last HOPE audience that co-host Belleci was on the conference call, he had meant Grant Imahara, another MythBuster co-host.

Further, a Discovery Channel representative told me that MythBusters did end up running an episode, last January, on RFID, but that the issue of the technology's security holes was not addressed.

 

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