Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
8/10/2006
05:35 PM
Valerie Potter
Valerie Potter
Commentary
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Would You Rather Buy Things With Your Phone Or Your Finger?

To me, paying by finger sounds a lot cooler than paying by phone. But there's also an inherent creepiness to biometric identification--this is your flesh that's being measured by that machine, after all.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I love future tech. It's fascinating hearing about the ways we'll get around and interact with one another a few years out. That's why I was delighted to edit two future tech features this week.In "6 Mobile Innovations That Will Change Your Life," David Haskin investigates ever-improving ways to stay in touch, from cell phones that let you send live videocasts to Internet-connected monitoring devices that automatically transmit patients' vital signs to their medical providers.

"Business Travel In 2010: Biometrics, 3-D, And RFID," by Lee Hamrick, takes a different approach. This fictional narrative imagines a day in the life of a business traveler in the year 2010. Among other things, our traveler receives video mail, uses a fingerprint scanner for flight check-in, and shows a holographic presentation to investors. (My favorite part is Hamrick's re-envisioning of JFK International Airport as a calm, quiet place where cell phone use is confined to designated areas. Wouldn't that be nice?)

These two stories touch on some of the same technologies, but they don't always draw the same conclusions. Haskin's story predicts widespread use of cell phones as mobile wallets. Already taking off in Japan and expected to be introduced soon in the United States, these phones use a short-range wireless technology called Near-Field Communications, or NFC. You wave the phone near a point-of-sale terminal that supports NFC, and it pays for your purchase by debiting your bank account or charging your credit card.

Hamrick, on the other hand, has the business traveler of the future paying for purchases with the touch of a finger. Biometric fingerprint-payment services are already beginning to take off in the United States. You pay by pressing a finger to a scanner at participating stores; as with the wallet phone, these services can either debit your bank account or charge the purchase to your credit card.

I can see advantages and disadvantages to both systems. Both are convenient--you don't even have to remember your wallet when you leave the house. But the wallet phone raises obvious concerns about loss or theft. And as someone who rarely carries a cell phone (mine tends to ride around in the glove compartment so that whoever's got the car can call home to find out what groceries we need), I wouldn't find it any more convenient to carry a wallet phone than a wallet.

To me, paying by finger sounds a lot cooler than paying by phone. But there's also an inherent creepiness to biometric identification--this is your flesh that's being measured by that machine, after all. And it carries a potential privacy nightmare--what if someone manages to hack into a system somewhere and associate your identity with someone else's fingerprint? It's difficult enough to recover from identity theft already.

How would you rather pay for purchases in the future--by phone or by finger? Or is the system we've got working just fine, thank you very much? Weigh in below.To me, paying by finger sounds a lot cooler than paying by phone. But there's also an inherent creepiness to biometric identification--this is your flesh that's being measured by that machine, after all.

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