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You're fingered for it

By Dave Birch posted May 22 2008 at 8:08 AM

[Dave Birch] There's no doubt that consumers aren't as adverse to the use of fingerprints for applications such as retail payments as security experts worry that they might be. In fact


Six-in-10 consumers worldwide believe they will be able to pay for purchases using fingerprints by 2015, according to the report New Future In Store from TNS.

[From Consumers give thumbs up to biometric payment - Talking Retail]

Not that I think that we should pay much attention to what the public think about anything (after all, a good portion of them think that Sherlock Holmes ws a real person) but I'm sure they are right about biometrics, but wrong about fingerprints. One obvious problem that I can foresee is that retail POS will become (as in the case of PINs) a place to steal cardholder verification details. Then consumer's fingerprints might end up in all sorts of strange places. I wonder if the German japesters the Chaos Computer Club haven't done us all a favour by inventing a splendid new sport based on biometrics. You'll recall that they


published digital copies of the German Home Secretary Wolfgang Schäuble's fingerprints in their magazine. This was done in protest over the increased use of biometric data, for example in biometric passports and airport immigration. Apparently they lifted the original fingerprint from a glass that the Secretary used during a conference. Over 4,000 copies of the magazine were published, which also included a thin plastic film which could be stuck onto one's finger in order to provide a false biometric reading, and pretend to be Herr Schäuble.

[From Chaos Computer Club Publishes Fingerprints of German Home Secretary - Securethoughts]

In practice, I'm sure that the first use of this tactic for criminal purposes won't be to impersonate an important official. What on Earth could you gain access to with the Home Secretary's fingerprint? I didn't notice biometric fingerprint readers at the door of no.10 the last (and, in fact, only) time I went there. No, it will be to get someone random person's fingerprint and put it at the scene of a crime to set a false trail or start a cover up or something similar. If I were going to murder someone, I'd wear gloves and leave your fingerprint at the scene of the crime.

There was a story in the British news about this made me think about this at the time of the CCC exploit. What happened was that the police matched fingerprints found at a crime scene to a person on their fingerprint database. Then they arrested that person.


Lee Hicks, 33, said police burst into his home to arrest him after his fingerprints were found at the scene of a burglary committed seven months ago.

[From BBC NEWS | England | Gloucestershire | Locksmith is mistaken for burglar]

But the reason his fingerprints were at the crime scene was that he was locksmith who had been called by the property owner to change the locks at the burgled premises. One can imagine that in other circumstances, the outcome might have been tragic: suppose your fingerprint had been found at the scene of a terrorist outrage and armed officers were sent to arrest you?

If there's any biometric that the mass of us will using to buy things in 2015, it will be voice.

These opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]


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Dave, I trust that the reference to ignoring "what the public think" is tongue-in-cheek. In case there's any doubt, first, "the public" doesn't exist as any meaningful concept. Second, unless your retail product solves what enough individual consumers perceive to be their own critical problem (need or want), then of course it's dead. The challenge is to understand the activity in which a consumer is engaged, end-to-end, and be part of the solution to at least one of the problems they perceive along the way.

If (and it would seem to be a big if!) valid, empirical research really does support the notion that a significant proportion of retail consumers believe they'll be able to pay with simply a fingerprint, then it would be interesting to know more about the context and the problem that prompted that statement of belief.

[Dave Birch] Agree, but I'm still slightly sceptical of consumer responses to this kind of survey.

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