Speeding Up The Checkout Line With Biometrics

A Seattle supermarket next month will begin using a service that lets shoppers use fingerprints to authorize payment for groceries.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

March 13, 2002

2 Min Read

Customers at the Thrift Way supermarket in Seattle next month can speed through the checkout, using personal ID numbers and their fingerprints to authorize payment for groceries.

"It's really about customer convenience and security," says Paul Kapioski, president and owner of Thrift Way, which is using biometric E-payment software from Indivos Inc. to set up the service. "For one, you won't have to dig your credit cards out of your purse or wallet, and you're assured that no one else is using your cards in our store." He adds that deployment was relatively simple because existing point-of-sale machines didn't have to be replaced. Readers on the credit-card machines at the checkout counters capture customers' fingerprints and send encrypted data to one of Indivos' four data centers. That fingerprint is matched against the one scanned into the database when the customer enrolled in the program. After authentication, the transaction is routed through conventional financial networks like any other credit-card or debit-card transaction.

The use of biometric identification for E-payment authentication has been slow to catch on in the United States. Analysts have said biometric technology makes perfect sense for E-payments and will help lower the risk of identity theft, but there have been few deployments. One barrier to deployment is that the United States lags far behind Europe and Asia when it comes to wireless technologies, says James Van Dyke, research director for research firm Jupiter Communications.

Another barrier is that there are too many options, Van Dyke says. "There are about 12 different types of biometric authentication and verification technologies out there, and that will only confuse consumers and inhibit standardization," he says. The industry needs to standardize on two or three technologies, he says, adding that the ones that seem to make the most sense right now are fingerprint and voice scanning because they're less-intrusive and data-intensive compared with iris and facial scanning.

It will be about five years before biometrics infiltrates the E-payments space, analysts say, but use of the technology by the government and businesses could help consumers grow accustomed to the idea.

Businesses mostly use biometrics for employee authentication. For example, Symetric Sciences Inc., a Montreal company that develops software to track clinical trials of pharmaceutical products, has embedded NetNanny Software Inc.'s BioPassword technology in its products. Pharmaceutical company employees who use Symetric Sciences software are authenticated based on the rhythm of their typing. BioPassword, which is priced at $100 per seat for 50 users, records and ties a person's unique typing style to that individual's network account for user authentication. It doesn't require special hardware and is installed on a corporate network, with each desktop running a BioPassword client.

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