Palm Scanning Tech Poses Bigger Risks than Mere Surveillance

Tencent’s announcement yesterday that they intended to take palm scanning mainstream has early adopters swooning about convenience and late adopters frowning about security risks and surveillance.

The tech itself was deployed by Kodak forty years ago and companies that use it today include Amazon and duty free retailers in some US airports.

But now China-based Tencent has introduced a service that allows people to wonder around without ID, credit cards, mobiles. Everything, in fact. Yet these same people can shop, take the subway, catch a flight, dine – everything, in fact.

This has triggered forecasts for biometric payments in the region of 3 billion users within 2 years. That’s how quickly this payment processing tech can be rolled out globally. To suggest that this  is both behavior-changing and imminent would be something of an understatement. Tencent have created a mental image of just waving your downturned hand in the appropriate scanning area and voila! Payment sorted.

The threat of illegal data collection and commercial (and police, come to think of it) surveillance loom large, obviously. But I’m not sure there’s anything different here to collect or survey than if you were still using your credit card.

No, I think the bigger risk here can best be explained as follows.

Mrs. Snodgrass of Battersea in London is on her little monthly spree in Bond Street, about a half hour’s bus ride from her flat. It isn’t really a spree, she just likes to browse the shops and always returns home with just a packet of chocolate biscuits. She doesn’t like spending money frivolously as she’s saving it for her grand-daughter’s inheritance. As she’s coming out of the Louis Vuitton Shop where she was admiring, not buying, she spots her good friend Edith on the other side of the road. “Hey, Edith, Edith! It’s me, Gladys!” she shouts (rather optimistically in this busy London street). Raising her arm, she waves cheerily to her friend. But Edith doesn’t see her because another London bus halts right between them. She drops her arm and waits for the bus to move on. But she wasn’t quick enough.

A palm scanning device embedded in a travel advertisement on the side of the bus scanned her palm and committed her to a first class, round the world trip. Non-refundable of course, and costing only £12,000. About £300 less than the amount in her savings account, as coincidence would have it.

Oh, I hear you scoff with derision. That’s just ridiculous. That’s never going to happen.

Ah yes. what was I thinking? No one has ever subverted technology to prey on the vulnerable for profit.

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