Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Voice Over I-Pay

No matter how hardened and secure everything is, when I'm making some sort of electronic transaction, I often wonder about whether I'm about to become a victim of ID theft.

At the ATM, I make sure that no one has mounted one of those little info-stealing boxes over the card swipe. When I have to give my "social", I plug in the ethernet cable rather than "trust" wireless. When I buy online, I never leave my credit card number for future reference (although this would probably make as much sense from a security point of view as rekeying it in every time). I try to patronize only those restaurants that give you a receipt with everything other than the last four letters x'd out.

I look forward to the day when we have all kinds of fancy biometrics that prove I'm me: flutter of an eyelash, cheek swab, or voice recognition.

Well, the other day (I think it was in The Economist), I saw an article on a new company called Voice Pay, which uses voice recognition technology to create a secure payment environment.

Here's how it works (according to their web site):

With Voice Pay mobile, customers can buy from a shop, gain access to an event, and even buy from a TV commercial or magazine, instantly. Customers just call their national Voice Pay phone number, authenticate themselves and just speak or key the code that appears next to the product that they want to buy. We confirm the price that they are being charged and the customer confirms the purchase.

The customer, of course, has to have set up an account and given them your voiceprint (and, a la PayPal, your credit card or bank account number).

And even if someone can imitate your voice, we all apparently have unique (or thereabouts) voice markers. So, using Voice Pay doesn't hold the risk of a stolen credit card (where someone can just turn the card over and see your secret three-digit code) or bank account. (It also sounds safer than the thumbprint ID. Although I think those are now set up so that the readers can det ect whether the thumb is attached to a live person or not, at least in the movies I saw digits hacked off to subvert biometric scanners. At least no one can hack out your voice box and get it to work.)

It will be interesting to see if companies - retail, restaurant, online - embrace this technology. Or whether consumers do.

It sounds like it's probably more secure than a lot of the methods we use. But it also seems like a lot more work than just sliding your credit card through the slot or waving your smart card around.

But the other day at a 7-11, the guy in front of me was using a debit card to buy two bottles of Gatorade. While I was standing there tapping my foot, and wondering just who uses a card for a cash transaction of $3.58, I watched the fellow swipe his card, enter his pin, hit the OK, and replace the stylus. Didn't seem like that much more effort than calling a number, keying in a transaction code, and saying 3-5-8.

But for 7-11 transactions, I intend to stay strictly cash.

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