Posted 4/17/2003 1:39 PM
Wal-Mart forces bar-code Web site offline
A Web site that urged visitors to lower prices for grocery items by substituting bar codes shut itself down after pressure from Wal-Mart Stores.
The site's operators, a group of tech-savvy political activists, decided to close the site Wednesday after contacts between their lawyer and those of Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer.
"I decided that maybe I'm in over my head at this point," said a member of the group who would identify himself only with the pseudonym Nathan Hactivist. He said he's a 26-year-old art student in upstate New York.
Re-code.com () contained a database of bar codes with instructions on how to print them on stickers. It suggested visitors "choose their own prices" by, for instance, sticking a bar code for generic cereal on a name-brand box in the store.
The Web site's creators called it a work of satire intended to create a discussion on how prices are set by corporations. It went online March 20.
A letter from Wal-Mart's lawyers to one of the companies involved in hosting the site said re-code.com encouraged a modern version of the old scam of taking price tags from a cheap item and putting them on more expensive ones.
"Our concern has always been ... that any invitation to theft or removing items from stores at prices that are set by individuals certainly flies in the face of doing business," Wal-Mart spokesman Tom Williams said.
Williams would not comment on whether the company was seeking to sue the site's creators.
Hactivist, who was interviewed by phone, said the group had not received any explicit threats of legal action from Wal-Mart but felt threats were implied in the contacts with their lawyer.
The site's legal owner, Mike Bonnano of Loudonville, N.Y., said that switching store bar codes may be illegal but there was nothing illegal about the site itself.
"It's just like publishing a book with instructions," he said. Bonnano, also a political activist, was not part of the group that created the site although he owns it.