Even though the whole chip and PIN thing is a relatively recent phenomenon in the United States, it has been the de facto banking and credit card standard here in Canada for many years. While “tap” technology makes things more convenient, chip and PIN is supposed to be more secure. Now Mastercard wants to marry convenience with security, announcing a new credit card technology that embeds a fingerprint sensor right in the card itself.


When I first came across this story, I had the impression that all the payment terminals would have to be upgraded to include a fingerprint sensor but not so. Instead, there’s a sensor built into the biometric card itself. You slide your card into existing terminals, put your finger on the right place, and walk away with your groceries.

While Gizmodo reports that customers still have to enter their PIN, that does not appear to be the case if the above video demonstration is to be believed. Furthermore, the official press release from Mastercard seems to indicate that the PIN isn’t necessary (but can still serve as a backup to biometric authentication).

When shopping and paying in-store, the biometric card works like any other chip card. The cardholder simply dips the card into a retailer’s terminal while placing their finger on the embedded sensor. The fingerprint is verified against the template and – if the biometrics match – the cardholder is successfully authenticated and the transaction can then be approved with the card never leaving the consumer’s hand.

Since we are already using our fingerprints to unlock our smartphones and our laptops, as well as to authorize payments through systems like Apple Pay, extending this to Mastercard’s biometric card makes logical sense. Privacy advocates, however, worry about arming banks with this kind of sensitive data. Mastercard asserts that the data is irretrievably stored on the EMV chip.

Trials are currently underway in South Africa and they hope to expand testing to select markets in Europe and Asia Pacific in the months to come. From there, it’s really up to the banks if they want to adopt the technology for their own biometric card.

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