Invisible Payments, Are They Real?

In short, yes, they WILL be, but like everything worthwhile there is a significant cost involved. In this case, the currency will be your identity, and the more invisible you want payments – or any transaction for that matter – to become, the more of your identity you will have to spend. In this case, there is a direct correlation between your identity, and your privacy.

First, what is an invisible payment? Seeing as Wikipedia hasn’t even got a listing yet, I’ll take a stab at defining what invisible payments are to me;

A payment can effectively be called invisible when there is limited to no interaction required by the payment initiator (consumer) to complete the authorisation and settlement of a transaction.”

Any fan of Star Trek has seen this in play for decades. When was the last time you saw Captain Kirk reach into his pocket for a 10 spot or a credit card? Did he have to use biometrics or a swipe card to get onto the bridge? Maybe, but we saw none of it, and that’s the point.

Imagine this scenario; You walk into Sainbury’s and pick up a basket, then walk up and down the isles choosing your items. Once you have finished shopping, you walk out to your car [optionally] without any further interaction whatsoever.

What was the process?

  1. As you walked in, any number of authentication mechanisms were at play; from smartphone proximity (NFC), to facial and/or gait recognition, to whatever biometric innovation comes next;
  2. Both the shopping carts and the baskets could be easily be fitted with fingerprint, vein, hand geometry recognition sensors in order to assign the subsequent basket contents to you;
  3. As you place items in the basket, they are scanned and optionally listed on your mobile device for a running total / loyalty benefits / instant coupons and the like;
  4. Walk through a final scanner into a bagging area, or just go straight to your car, either way your final tally is calculated and the funds directly charged to the payment option of choice. It’s up to you if you want to authorise the final payment with a PIN number and/or biometric on your smartphone; and
  5. Everything you just purchased is now available on your home database for tracking of ingredients for a meal, expiration dates and so on.

While the majority of the technology behind this transaction is more in the realm of the Internet of Things (IoT), the payments aspect is an extremely simple form of Identity Management on smartphones. What’s more, all of this technology is available today, the only thing missing is the demand.

There will be 2 extreme camps to the above scenario; 1) Where do I sign-up!? and 2) Never in a million years!

Most of us will be somewhere nearer the middle, and it should be clear that the further you get in to the ‘sign-up’ camp the more of yourself you have had to share. When it comes to invisible payments – and IoT for that matter – the convenience described above came at a cost to your privacy. And until security catches up with technological innovation, that cost is seen by most to be too high.

That’s the demand I mentioned above, and while scenarios like this will be common place one day, we’re not quite there yet.

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