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Paying with your fingerprint: Priceless.

Zwipe with MasterCard

Date: 20-10-2014
Author: Sam Totham

Most people currently have, or have had, a bankcard that was able to make contactless payments. Some people don’t trust it, some people may think it is the best thing since television. But now MasterCard are working on making it even easier.

Contactless payment, for you technophobes out there, is basically the ability to skip out the “enter your PIN” section of a card transaction. The card has an embedded Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip that allows payments to be made by simply pressing the card against the screen of the card reader terminal. Obviously, this represents a serious potential fraud hazard… So therefore contactless payments are limited to £20 in one transaction to cut down serious card fraudsters.

Until recently, fingerprint scanning was mainly regarded as science fiction or for thick steel-clad doors hiding obscure royal family’s valuables. Now MasterCard aims follow what Apple started by bringing it into people’s everyday lives.
They are collaborating with Zwipe, a company founded in 2009 and based in Oslo, Norway. The partnership is aimed at producing the first fingerprint scanning bankcards, further reducing the need for lengthy and confusing PIN numbers and passwords. Zwipe is concentrated on improving fingerprint algorithms and energy harvesting technology, meaning that the proposed card will smoothly identify your digit and simply harvest the power needed from the terminal that you are using to pay, negating the need for an independent battery to power the card, which would be ungainly and inefficient. Near field communication (NFC) technology in the card means that you can simply wave it in the vicinity of the payment terminal, as opposed to the much closer requirement of traditional contactless payments.

The first alpha test has been completed with a bank in Norway, to what seems to be entirely positive results, reassuring interested parties in the live scenario security of the idea.

Security

As MasterCard claim that this biometric scanner card is much more secure than typical contactless payments there is no transaction limit planned for the use of the card. MasterCard have also assured companies that the data for the fingerprint identification will be held on secure Zwipe servers rather than by the lesser companies that will accept the payment card, meaning that even if there is a security breach somewhere that the card has been used the fingerprint data is still secure.

At initial setup, the card will require a scan of your desired fingerprint, then after that, it is simply a case of pressing your finger onto the scanner on the card face when making a payment.

Of course, this is not the only similar idea being developed; Apple Pay aims to transform your iPhone into a phone-shaped bankcard in the near future. However, Zwipe apparently does not consider the Apple process as a rival. Feeling instead that Apple has opened the market for other fingerprint technologies and companies with their Apple Pay and Touch ID.

Thankfully, similar to current contactless payment, the biometric aspect of the card is not mandatory. If you do not want to use it then you don’t have to. You can simply use the regular Chip and Pin method by inserting the card and entering your PIN.

The Zwipe card is set to be released by MasterCard in the UK in 2015, with unspecified dates at this time for other parts of the world.

Watch a short trailer for Zwipe on this Forbes article.

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