Co-op supermarkets introduce Pay by Touch Wed Mar 8, 2006 01:38 PM GMT
By David Burrows
LONDON (Reuters) - Just when consumers have got their heads around chip and pin, one supermarket has introduced payment verification by fingerprint. Three Co-op stores in the Oxford area are offering the service, which is already used in the United States but which is new to Europe.
Rather than signing for payment or keying in a pin number, customers using "pay-by-touch" need only set up an account at the store or online at home. There is no need to carry a card or cash, as the unique fingerprint is scanned at the store checkout and is immediately identified with a bank account which is then debited.
Simple perhaps, but civil liberties groups are wary of the scheme and predict possible problems in persuading shoppers to sign up without knowing who exactly would have access to their details.
Co-op, which is not charging customers to sign up, aims to introduce pay-by-touch to all its stores over time, a spokeswoman said.
The main selling point with biometrics is that only the individual in question can verify a payment or access an account, if it is used for online banking.
The US company that supplied Co-op stores with the scanners, Pay By Touch, says costs to retailers are not prohibitive. It is currently in negotiation with other big retail groups in Britain and Europe.
Shannon Riordon, marketing director at Pay By Touch, told Reuters: "Scanners now cost just 40 pounds a unit, unlike a few years ago when they cost thousands.
"Now they are cheaper to install than chip and pin and most UK retailers will be watching to see how successful the Co-op scheme proves, and then we would expect many to follow suit."
Fingerprint technology will not be limited to over-the-counter sales. In time, consumers should be able to use fingerprint scanners at home and buy direct from online retail Web sites.
After investing so much in chip and pin technology, it remains to be seen how quickly major UK retailers will embrace biometrics.
While the system itself might prove cheaper to run, it relies on people signing up for the scheme and there will inevitably be issues relating to personal privacy as there have been with ID cards.
A spokeswoman for civil liberties group Liberty said: "I think it is a case of buyer beware. "Consumers need to know how the information is going to be used and who has access before they sign up. Undoubtedly the police will have access on request. (this is an incorrect statement as there is nothing to request...they're not fingerprints, but datapoints and the police could do nothing with them)
Regulation needs to be in place to ensure retailers adhere to data protection principles."
She added: "We do take on board the anti-fraud issue but would argue that all systems such as this are prone to human error."
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