Anyone with an iPhone 5 can use its fingerprint reader to unlock the device and pay for apps or music in Apple’s iTunes store. Owners of Samsung’s latest flagship device, the Galaxy S5 smartphone, which launches on April 11, will be able to make much broader use of their fingerprints to pay for things. If they visit a website or app that accepts PayPal using the device, they can authorize payments by swiping a finger across the phone’s home button. And PayPal’s own mobile app can be used to pay for goods in some physical stores in the U.S.
Fingerprint payments are likely to be offered on many more smartphones in the near future. The Galaxy S5’s payments system is the first commercial deployment of a new protocol developed by the FIDO Alliance, a group founded by tech companies to end our reliance on insecure passwords (see “PayPal, Lenovo Launch Campaign to Kill the Password”). Indeed, fingerprint readers are expected to become commonplace on mobile devices over the next year or so (see “A Technological Assault on the Password”).
“Today people are having to type in nine-digit passwords everywhere, including one-handed on the subway,” says Joel Yarbrough, senior director of global product solutions at PayPal. This leads many people to use simple passwords and to reuse them across multiple services. This, in turn, makes it easier for criminals to take control of accounts. “Building a smart biometric experience solves both usability and dramatically increases the security level,” says Yarbrough.