Paying from the Heart
Authenticating payments has been a big issue in combatting credit card fraud. Having a credit card in hand and perhaps even showing a photo ID doesn't necessarily mean that the person whose in possession of the card is the owner of the card. As the future trends toward mobile payments, it may be even easier to falsely use a credit card through someone's smart phone unless solid authentication measures are in place.
Various tech companies think biometrics is the answer for payment authentication. Using a part of a person's body that is unique to just that person, like a fingerprint, retina scan or a heartbeat, may be able to provide a secure layer of authentication to keep personal information like credit card data secure.
Bionym is one company that thinks its product might work in the payments world. This Toronto-based offshoot from the University of Toronto creates wearable technology devices that can authenticate a person's identity through the rhythm of their electrocardiogram, which is the rhythm of one's heartbeat, or "unique electric cardiac signature," as its website says. Every person's electrocardiogram is unique to them, which makes it a possibility for biometric authentication.
The company's Nymi Band is a bracelet for your wrist that contains a sensor. After putting it on, you log into the device by pressing the top of the sensor with your other hand to let the sensor read your heartbeat. As long as you keep the bracelet on, those sensors can relay your identity to other devices to unlock or authenticate them. The technology can be used with things like car doors, entryways, computer and device logins and smart appliances. Once you take the bracelet off, you'll need to log in again in order to use the information stored on it.
One of the investors in Bionym is MasterCard, who's exploring the idea of being able to use this technology for contactless payments. To that end, MasterCard, Bionym and the Royal Bank of Canada announced they're launching a pilot in Canada this year to test this concept. The pilot will use new prototype Nymi Bands that contain the NFC chip that's currently in contactless-enabled credit cards. When users activate the Nymi Band, their heartbeat tells the chip they are who they say they are, and they're able to use the bracelet for payments just by holding it over the contactless pad on a card reader at the register.
Because the Nymi Band uses the NFC chip currently used by standard credit cards, the device will work with any existing payment terminal that accepts MasterCard's contactless payment system. Bionym states that adding heartbeat authentication can make the current contactless payment more secure, as currently, contactless payments with a card just require holding the credit card over the payment reader, which anyone can do if they have your credit card. With a Nymi Band, the information on the credit card is tied to you, and only you can authorize it to be used.
Having payment information located within the Nymi Band also means that you can leave your credit cards at home--or even your mobile phone, if you use that as a way to pay for goods--and still be able to buy something if you're on the go.
Of course, Bionym's technology will only work if people are willing to wear a bracelet on their arm every day--or alongside another product like a watch, fitness tracker or jewelry.
Bionym's pilot will start up before the end of the year, with results coming out in early 2015. If you're interested--and Canadian--you can apply to be a part of the program at Bionym's website.