Canadian shoppers forsee fingerprint scanning

Most respondents to a recent survey expect they will be using biometrics to pay for products within seven years, and one analyst says this would be one way of fighting fraud.

Taylor Nelson Sofres plc (TNS) of Britain yesterday announced results of a survey of shoppers. Sixty per cent of respondents said they “believe” they will be able to pay for purchases using fingerprint readers by 2015, though only a quarter said they are likely to use the technology.

“We’re seeing these technologies on laptops that are coming out,” said David Stark, a spokesman for TNS Canada. “Consumers coming to accept them but are wary of the security issues.”

TNS surveyed 4,500 consumers in Canada, the U.S., Britain, China, France, Germany, Japan and Spain in February. Forty-one per cent said biometric fingerprint identification has “high appeal.”

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But fingerprinting is not a 100 per cent secure method of verifying identity, said Lawrence Surtees, vice-president and principal analyst for IDC’s Canadian communications practice

“Biometric experts will tell you using fingerprinting isn’t the most foolproof method because fingerprints can be more readily spoofed than other biometric techniques,” he said. “So one of the preferred ones in retinal scanning.”

He added concerns over stolen PIN numbers is one major driver of the biometrics market.

“Smart people figured out how to put in a fake reader to steal PIN numbers, then the credit card companies and banks were on the hook for a lot of this stuff, so they wanted to figure out how to do better authentication,” he said.

In the TNS survey, 26 per cent of respondents said they are “likely to use” biometrics to pay for items. Stark said the survey did not ask specifically about Internet commerce.

A recent Statistics Canada report found Internet commerce comprises only a tiny fraction of the total money changing hands in Canada. In the 2007 Survey of Electronic Commerce and Technology, StatsCan says total private and public sector Internet sales were $62.7 billion in 2007, or 26 per cent higher than in 2006.

But only eight per cent of private corporations said they sell anything online, and total Internet sales at companies in the private sector was less than two per cent of total operating revenue.

The numbers were no surprise to Surtees, who noted about 97 per cent of Canadian companies have fewer than 100 employees and electronic commerce has expensive startup costs.

“Five or six years ago people were much more bullish about where this was going to go,” he said. “Clearly that has not manifested itself.” He added even if only 0.1 per cent of the total transactions were conducted over the Internet, “that is not a paltry figure.”

StatsCan said sales using electronic data interchange (EDI), as well as Internet transactions between two companies, were not included in the total. However, electronic commerce is defined as sales over the Internet, with our without online payment, so goods that were ordered online but paid for offline are still counted.

It wasn’t long ago that only one per cent of transactions were conducted over the Internet, Surtees said.

“The fact that it’s increased to two (per cent), means there’s a bit of growth there.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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