Monday, December 05, 2005


Some guy got a fancy iPod accessory for $4.99 by changing the UPC label.

Of course, stupid reporters make it seem like there's magic in the barcode that contains the price, so the receipt would say "iPod - $4.99". But that's not true, it's far simpler. The barcode is just an automated way of typing in a number (the number that's written on it). That number is then looked up in the database to find out the price, and track inventory and such. But the point is that this kid's reciept said "Gummi Bears - $4.99" and he tried walking out with an iPod item. He didn't really even need the software, he could have just Xeroxed the UPC from the the Gummi Bears onto a sheet of labels at the school library and been done with it.

Again, the barcode doesn't contain any "coded information" except what you see printed on it. You cannot change the price of an object by changing the UPC, you can only change what the computer thinks it's selling. (That's not specifically true: the first half of the barcode is unique to the manufacturer, and the second half is unique to the product. Beyond that, there is no standardization or magic in the label.)

*** NOTE: His receipt actually said headphones, not Gummi Bears. I used that because it was funnier. Don't try suing me, asshole.


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