Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

The Emergence of Biometrics and Its Effect on Consumers

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

The Emergence of Biometrics and Its Effect on Consumers

Article excerpt

Biometric authentication systems are becoming increasingly common. Though their use offers important advantages to governmental agencies, business, and consumers, the widespread use of biometric technology has the potential for serious negative consequences. In this paper, the authors explore the effects on consumers of the incorporation of biometric authentication into mainstream commerce, specifically focusing on privacy concerns of consumers in the context of the fair information practice principles of notice/awareness, choice/consent, access/ participation, integrity/security, and enforcement/redress.

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Biometric systems are quickly becoming a standard part of modern life as commercial and governmental entities rapidly embrace a technology that promises enhanced security and improved identification. Japanese cell phone manufacturers have begun including fingerprint readers into their devices to prevent unauthorized use (Dvorak 2004), and the U.S. manufacturers are expected to release similar products by the end of 2005 (Smith 2005). Accenture was recently awarded a $10 billion contract to incorporate biometric identification measures into the U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology program, a tracking system for foreign nationals entering the United States (Stein 2004), and the State Department is planning to add electronic chips to passports by late 2005 to allow for facial comparisons (Krim 2004; Lucas 2005). Biometric payment systems using fingerprint scanning technology are now in use by a wide range of merchants including Piggly-Wiggly, General Nutrition Center, and Blockbuster (Clark 2004; Lucas 2005). Point-of-sale biometrics, a mere 2% of the total biometrics market, generated $16.1 million in 2003 and are expected to rise to over $250 million by 2008 (International Biometric Group 2004). Biometric technology, once the science fiction fodder of the Mission Impossible world, is quickly becoming a staple of American and world commerce.

Biometrics is the science of measuring biological characteristics and behaviors for the purpose of determining or verifying identity (Bolle et al. 2004; International Biometric Group 2004; Reid 2004). Authentication is a critical function in many consumer and industrial applications, and the shift to biometric technology is the result of governmental and industrial sectors seeking better identification methods for security and fraud prevention than traditional identity cards. Since the September 11, 2001, attacks and overall rise in worldwide terrorist activity, governmental entities have increasingly focused on the development of foolproof identification and tracking systems turning to biometric technology as a central part of the solution (Greenemeier 2005; Piazza 2005). Commercial use of biometrics has simultaneously been spurred by dramatic increases in identity theft and related crimes (Linnhoff and Langenderfer 2004; Sraeel 2005).

The promise of biometric technology is not insignificant. From an organizational perspective, biometric identifiers are attractive because they generally do not vary over the lifetime of the individual, they typically cannot be shared, and they cannot be acquired through computer hacking or surreptitious observation (Jain et al. 2004; Ratha, Connell, and Bolle 2001). This means, for example, that with biometric technology enhancements, employees cannot punch each other in on a time clock, criminals can be identified regardless of what identification cards they have stolen or forged, terrorists can potentially be denied boarding on aircraft, and health care providers can be relatively certain that the individual they are treating does indeed match the name on the insurance card and the medical history file.

From a consumer perspective, biometric authentication offers advantages as well. Once enrolled in a biometric system, consumers are potentially free from worry about the fraudulent use of their credit cards. …

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