A new mobile payment system introduced by the Canadian company
ZoomPass is the latest in a line of technology that has tried to
entice consumers into using wirless or chip based smart cards as a
means of making small payments. So far consumers have been resistent
to adopt these kinds of payment systems, however given our obsession
with mobile devices, and their ubiquity in our lives, this might be
the system that succeeds where others have failed.
MasterCard. Originally it started as a means of making payments via
text message, as well as a smart phone application. The person making
the payment and the person receiving it used to have to both be
ZoomPass users for it to work. The new system however makes it easier
for ZoomPass to be used anywhere, potentially transforming your phone
into a type of MasterCard debit card.
This new mobile payment technology is basically a sticker with a kind
of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tag that you affix onto the
back of your phone. When you want to make a purchase all you need to
do is wave your phone (with the sticker) in front of the point-of-sale
reader, normally situated right by the cash register. The transaction
is then completed. It's that simple. Also, since it's based on an
existing MasterCard technology there's already a lot of retailers who
support and already have the readers, including places like McDonald's
and Tim Hortons.
I should also point out that as far as I can tell, the technology does
not literally require a mobile phone. It's just a sticker, that you
could say put on your jacket or your glove or your wallet or whatever
and just wave in front of the reader and it will work. The idea of
putting on your phone however is that you carry that everywhere
anyway, and you can use the phone to login to your ZoomPass account
and check your transactions or add more money to buy more donuts and
ZoomPass is part of a larger trend as we're seeing a huge explosion in
mobile commerce, both in terms of payment systems, but all aspects of
the commercial experience. For example QR-codes and similar mobile
codes are starting to appear everywhere. These are weird looking
symbols on product tags, store windows, and advertisements, that when
viewed via the camera in your mobile phone unlock info about the
product increasingly including the ability to buy it right then and
there. Call this the early days of Augmented Reality commerce.
Similarly location based services are finding commercial application
as they spawn a new age of virtual coupons, that give either frequent
visitors, or visitors with the right mobile software a discount as
both an incentive to come into the store, but also a reward for
sharing their personal information. Services like FourSquare and
GoWalla are doing this via an opt-in that is manual, but IBM is
developing a service called "Presence" that will share and detect this
kind of information automatically.
When it comes to these types of services, most consumers quickly start
to think about security and privacy issues.
Naturally there has to be some security to any payment system, and yet
ZoomPass is just a sticker, so if it were stolen, it would be trivial
for the thief to buy things with it. Yet part of the design is to make
it disposable. If it is lost or stolen you can just login via the web
to your account and cancel that sticker and activate a new one.
Similarly you could control which vendors you frequent/use and how
much can be purchased per transaction, limiting it to under $20 if all
you used the tech for was buying coffee and donuts.
Of course the privacy angle is a whole other issue. Mobile commerce is
the classic example of giving up privacy in exchange for convenience,
and giving up privacy in exchange for very modest rewards. That's the
real trade-off for any of these systems, and where you see privacy
regarded less as a right and more as a commodity that you can sell for
10% off already marked-up slacks.
Yet the really interesting part, that we think a lot of people miss in
all these mobile commerce systems is the rise of virtual currencies.
Money as a medium has always been abstract and virtual. Cash as a
tangible and physical artifact limited the number of currencies we'd
bother carrying around with us, but as a our wallet becomes digital
and its capacity seemingly infinite, then why not accumulate and trade
in all sorts of currencies? Frequent flyer miles are one example of
virtual currencies that have exploded in the last ten years, and now
all sorts of entities are developing their own. Facebook for example
has their own, that they will aggressively expand, and in ZoomPass,
the mobile companies have their own kind of currency. Long term you
have to wonder that with the power of having your own currency might
also come the power of being your own virtual government?