Pay by Finger

This just in from FC‘s Charles Fishman:

Lowes Foods, which operates 108 bright, expansive grocery stores in the southeast U.S., confirmed to the Raleigh News & Observer today that it will soon offer payment using a fingerprint reader at the checkout counter. The company will have a fingerprint on file, linked to a customer’s checking account, and the money will be deducted directly from the checking account.

Easy, quick, convenient. No swiping of cards, no writing checks, no PIN numbers. No chance you’ll leave your finger at home by accident. No chance of fraud or theft. But here’s a set of questions the story didn’t tackle that make me nervous:

  • How many fingerprints will Lowes Foods keep on file for me?
  • Will Lowes itself hold those fingerprints, or will a third-party company hold them?
  • Will that database of fingerprints be available to police or other criminal investigators or homeland security officials? Will law enforcement need asubpoena, will they need to notify the customers, if their fingerprints are provided to investigators?
  • If I give my fingerprint to Lowes Foods, in other words, is that the equivalent of giving it law enforcement officials?
  • And can I get my fingerprint “back” from Lowes Foods anytime I want? That is, will the company purge my fingerprints from its database immediately upon my request?

I love my computer and my cell phone and my iPod. I also love cash. And that’s the way I still pay for groceries, and tolls, and many other things.

(Lowes Foods is not connected to Lowe’s Home Improvement, although both are based in North Carolina. Lowes Foods is part of a small, closely held company called Alex Lee.)