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Newport International Group: eBay App Wants to Give Users the Finger

I have been interested in biometrics since 1996 when a little company called Comparitor Systems became one of the first infamous internet era penny stock scams. The New York Times detailed how: "In early May (1996), Comparator became one of the most amazing stock stories on the Nasdaq market, leaping from 3 cents a share to a peak of $1.75...the company had not developed a new fingerprint identification system, as it had said, but had instead stolen a prototype of a system developed by others..."

Comparitor may have been a scam but this was my first exposure to biometrics technology (and how something can go viral over the internet). The technology seemed promising and I believed that it would ultimately replace passwords.

I didn't think it would take 17 years but it does look like our standard alphanumeric password protection standard may finally become obsolete.

Earlier this year we saw headlines such as Ars Technica's "PayPal exec aims to "obliterate passwords from the face of the planet" and the BBC's "End of the line for online passwords, says PayPal" where PayPal President David Marcus stated that "We want to move away from passwords, and get to embedded fingerprint scanners on mobile phones." Moreover, he correctly predicted that: "You're going to start seeing that type of experience later this year, with a mass roll-out in the year to come."

After Apple's acquisition of Authentic last year which included its patent portfolio of biometric technology it should be of no surprise that Apple announced that iPhone 5s would have fingerprint scanning technology and posted a video on Youtube ("Apple - iPhone 5s - The new Touch ID fingerprint identity sensor").

It was a major news event this week including coverage by the Wall Street Journal which quoted PayPals' Senior Director of Platform Raj Mata in "Apple's Latest iPhone Puts Focus Back on Fingerprint Security."

"The industry has always struggled with balancing online security with ease of use - and one has always come at the expense of the other."

However, in a post-Snowden world, one has to wonder how tech firms like PayPal define "security"...namely obtaining fingerprints of millions of Americans (and users worldwide for that matter) and if a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Order or the like can compel these companies to hand over this sensitive data.

ZeroHedge for instance sent out a Tweet half jokingly that "The NSA unveils its brand new fingerprint database" that received almost 600 retweets.

The New York Times had additional coverage of online reaction in, "New iPhone's Fingerprint Scanner Prompts Concern and Nervous Laughter Online."

What the major news outlets missed this week was that the United States Patent and Trademark Office just published eBay's (misspelled or possibly obfuscated?) patent application 20130232066, "Finger Print [sic] Funding Source Selection" whereby a "user selects a funding source that the user wants to associate with a specific user finger."

More specifically, "Each finger of a user can be uniquely associated with a funding source for a user account with a payment provider, such that the user can select or change a funding source by simply having the desired finger print read, such as on the display of a smart phone." Read more