Payment in the palm of your hand

Biometric identification could cut out credit cards – and even wallets

A woman registers her palm on a PulseWallet, a point-of-purchase device, during the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier this month. Photograph: Steve Marcus/Reuters

A woman registers her palm on a PulseWallet, a point-of-purchase device, during the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier this month. Photograph: Steve Marcus/Reuters

 

Using your biometric data as a method of identification is commonplace these days. Once the territory of high-security facilities in movies, now it’s in everything from your laptop to your mobile phone.

Passports contain biometric data to verify your identity. Samsung uses facial recognition in its Samsung Galaxy smartphones to unlock the devices; Apple recently implemented a fingerprint reader as a way to access the iPhone 5S.

Tech firm Facebanx have proclaimed passwords will be a thing of the past thanks to a system it had developed that authenticates users through voice and facial recognition.

Biometrics, or the identification of humans by their characteristics or traits, is nothing new. Back in 2010, a French bank was given permission to run a six-month trial on a payments system using fingerprints to authenticate shoppers, with four banks running the trial in 2012. And several schools in the past couple of years have introduced cashless systems for paying for lunches through linking fingerprints and palm prints to payment information.

Biometrics has been presrented as the best way to protect user information, but they can often fail. Poor light, for example, makes facial recognition difficult. A cut on the finger renders a fingerprint unreadable. And that’s before you get into the potential ways around the security measures, forcing users to provide the correct biometrics sample through several means, some more gruesome than others.

The way forward
But things may be moving on. Unveiled at CES, Pulse Wallet is being touted as the way forward for securing your private information. Based on Fujitsu’s Palm Secure technology, the system may be available for commercial users as early as next month.

The technology was shown off at the Fujitsu forum last November. The demonstration involved linking a travel card – in this case a train ticket – to a user’s biometric information.

The system reads your vein pattern, a biometric identifier tougher to replicate than previous authentication methods, and compares it against a pre-registered pattern to verify your identity.

It pulses an infrared signal through your hand, which, for the reader, turns the veins darker, enabling them to be read. It needs an active blood flow to deliver a positive result, which will then allow you to pay for an item or use your rail ticket.

If it all goes to plan, the new log-in method could be used for anything from swiping your hand across a scanner to pay for your shopping to logging in to your PC.

Stored in the cloud
The ultimate aim is to eliminate the need to carry credit cards, issue paper receipts or even carry a wallet. The information is stored in the cloud ready for access when needed.

But despite being pencilled in for a commercial release this year, Palm Secure has been in development for several years, and the technology itself is based on two decades of Fujitsu’s work in image recognition.

Biometrics, though, is not without its issues. The use of such technology throws up data privacy concerns for users and regulators alike, as the rules governing data privacy struggle to keep pace with rapidly evolving technology.

“Innovation and technology evolves at sometimes a fast pace, but it can also be quite slow,” Goodbody A&L’s Mark Rasdale told a data protection conference in Dublin this week. “A slow take-up of new tech solutions can make it difficult to identify issues until you see new tech in action and see how it’s going to work.”

The privacy implications for biometrics are significant: from fears of abuse of the stored data to the potential for hacking and other malicious attacks by unauthorised users,

And unlike credit card information, it’s not quite as easy to change your biometric data.

Although the idea of linking your financial information to something like your palm print may seem slightly alien now to Irish consumers, it could become commonplace.

Only a few short years ago, the same consumers would have baulked at the idea of sharing personal details, photos and other private information with large corporations; today, social networking is part of life.

PalmSecure and its ilk is part of Fujitsu’s push to innovate and bring new developments to its customers. In Ireland, that role falls to David Delaney, the firm’s innovation director, and Anthony McCauley, head of research.

The Irish division has been working to establish links with academic institutions and other parties to push forward innovation that will ultimately inform the type of products offered to Irish businesses.

A large part of this future strategy is big data. Last year Fujitsu announced it would undertake a series of collaborative research projects in Ireland over the coming three years, using the programme as a test bed case to inform the firm’s global future strategy.

Linked Open Data project
Part of this is the Linked Open Data project, a collaboration with NUI Galway’s Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) which is designed to facilitate integrated access to academic, government and industry data throughout the web, allowing it to be sorted and stored up to 10 time faster than was previously possible.

However, one obstacle to products like PulseWallet could be the aforementioned privacy concerns. Fujitsu’s David Delaney says the take-up of cloud services, for example, in Irish businesses has lagged trends in other countries, primarily due to the fears over security and a loss of control over data.

Consumers, while more advanced in some respects, may not be quite as reluctant to hand over personal details, but with a seemingly increased number of security attacks and data breaches being reported by companies, they may think twice in the future.

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