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7/8/2014
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Isis Flees Brand Tainted By Terror

There's no such thing as bad publicity, unless the publicity is really bad. Just ask the mobile payments service formerly known as Isis.

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Isis, the electronic payment service founded by AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile USA, and Verizon Wireless, has decided to change its name to avoid being associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the militant group also known as ISIS (the English translation of the group's name as rendered as an acronym).

CEO Michael Abbott announced the company's intention to rebrand itself in light of the militant group's involvement in violence against civilians and government forces in Iraq and Syria.

"However coincidental, we have no interest in sharing a name with a group whose name has become synonymous with violence and our hearts go out to those who are suffering," Abbott said in a statement. "As a company, we have made the decision to rebrand."

[Is your digital wallet safe? See Virtual Currencies Draw Fresh Regulator Scrutiny.]

Duplicate acronyms don't always cause problems. One of Isis's parent companies, AT&T, shares the letters of its name with ATT, the UK's Association of Taxation Technicians and with the IATA code for the Atmautluak Airport in Alaska. If any confusion has arisen from the overlap, it hasn't been sufficient to pique the interest of trademark lawyers.

Though it's sometimes said -- from behind the safety of a desk -- that the pen is mightier than the sword, you won't see anyone charging into Iraq brandishing a ballpoint pen in defense of the Isis name.

Given that the Isis payment service is barely established as a brand -- launched last November, the company in May boasted an average of 20,000 Isis Wallet activations per day for the previous 30 days -- a name change should not be all that painful.

Whatever the name the company takes for itself -- a new moniker has yet to be decided -- the firm formerly known as Isis has more pressing concerns. Last fall, Google introduced a technology called Host Card Emulation (HCE) in Android 4.4 (KitKat). HCE makes it possible to emulate smart cards in software and to store credit information in the cloud, bypassing carrier-controlled NFC hardware. Isis's founders, which wanted to be transaction gatekeepers, may no longer be a necessary part of the mobile payment systems that eventually find favor in the market.

What's more, by cutting and running, the entity once called Isis may be setting a bad precedent. If mayhem is all it takes to prompt trademark holders to abandon their name claims, it won't be long before we see terror groups co-opting corporate names and acronyms like IBM (Incorrigible Buddhist Mercenaries), HP (Holy Partisans), and Dell (Devious Enemies of Laos and Latvia) to further their agendas with publicity that unbranded violence just can't buy.

Still, it's uncertain whether consumers really want an alternative to existing payment mechanisms. According to a Forrester report released in December, "Understanding Digital Wallet Options For Your Business," only 11% of US consumers have a digital wallet. "Driving consumer interest and adoption is a steep, uphill climb in developed markets because the current payment systems work quite well," the report says.

Maybe Isis would fare better in the market if it rode ISIS's wave of infamy without blinking.

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Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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isis_do_over
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isis_do_over,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/9/2014 | 6:45:59 PM
Re: ISIS Needs Complete Redo
The ISIS design seems grotesque in comparison to newer cloud and QR based systems that require no special hardware – should work on most any smartphone - and can be used for online purchasing.  It is pretty silly that this system cannot be used for online purchases.  Here is a link to the Boston Fed which compares the approaches:

http://www.bostonfed.org/bankinfo/payment-strategies/publications/2014/mpiw-security-progress-status.pdf

As we were discussing, an anonymity preserving system can be produced fairly easily from a system such as LevelUp.  This is done by using cryptographic one time keys and a trusted third party reconciliation / settlement organization.  One could also go with a complete Bitcoin or Chaum like eCash system – a bit more work and harder to operate – but still not as obtuse as some of the designs in play today.
Henrisha
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Henrisha,
User Rank: Strategist
7/9/2014 | 12:59:02 PM
Re: ISIS Needs Complete Redo
It's definitely unexpected, and yet, here we are. It will be interesting to see developments to come from options like anonymous payments systems though. There will be room for abuse, although I'm sure they're already working on a fix for that. If not a fix, then prevention.
Henrisha
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Henrisha,
User Rank: Strategist
7/9/2014 | 12:58:14 PM
Re: Isis has no choice
Good point, Shane. If some evil organization came and tarnished "Google," then I would doubt if they would make a dent or convince Google to change their name, because, well, Google. In this case, it's a good decision. A wise one, at that.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
7/8/2014 | 5:12:34 PM
Re: ISIS Needs Complete Redo
An anonymous payment system sounds great, but I can't imagine that AT&T, so entwined with government regultors, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies, could ever support something that would diminish the power of the state.
isis_do_over
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isis_do_over,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/8/2014 | 4:51:54 PM
ISIS Needs Complete Redo
I am heartened to see that AT&T is going to change the name of its mobile commerce system.  It never made sense to name a payment system after the Egyptian goddess "ISIS".  The name ISIS was a marketing error – now reinforced by world events.

The AT&T payment system was ill conceived.  It could have been anonymous - something quite similar to the Bitcoin system.  An anonymous system defends its users from identity theft attacks even when the vender's computing systems are compromised.  There were systems proposed that would have allowed for anonymous transactions using fairly simple techniques - and are as easy to use as the current system.

Lets hope that AT&T and the rest take this time to redo their system from the ground up.  I hope they build a consumer oriented and well loved mobile commerce system that is one in more than name only.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
7/8/2014 | 4:16:28 PM
Re: Isis has no choice
Not buying that this is a real worry and not a bid for publicity and a chance to shed a name that never did ignite much interest in the tech. Now they get a free shot at a fresh start, no harm no foul.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
7/8/2014 | 1:55:50 PM
Isis has no choice
If you're a big, popular brand and some evil faction comes along and swipes your name (or acronym) you can't budge -- you're too established to change your name. But Isis is probably doing the right thing. It's not well-known enough to transcend the stigma of something like ISIS. Better to nip it in the bud.
majenkins
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majenkins,
User Rank: Ninja
7/8/2014 | 1:48:58 PM
Re: Another ISIS refugee, where will it all end?
Especially since the terrorist ISIS has already renamed itself.
GAProgrammer
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Ninja
7/8/2014 | 1:19:11 PM
A major point seems to be missing...
Sure, Isis shares an acronym with ISIS, but before that, there was no general acceptance of a term like that. If some terror group named IBM came out, IBM wouldn't rebrand. Everyone hears IBM and thinks computers. However, chances are the average person hasn't heard of Isis and upon hearing the word would be most likely to associate with terrorism. I can't disagree with their decision, only because they aren't synonymous with Isis (yet).

It's more about which has the most exposure initially that is the issue, I think.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
7/8/2014 | 12:38:03 PM
Another ISIS refugee, where will it all end?
That's funny. BMC didn't rename itself once the Baader-Meinhof Complex became a popular book describing the German terror gang. What if Tony Blair is right and ISIS gets tossed out? Go back to the original name? Sometimes, you have to tough it out in the face of events.  
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