Thursday, September 06, 2012

Contactless cards and Taps

Some innovations exclude commonsense.  The contactless card is one such: it has tiny transmitters in it that mean a machine can read it without you taking it out of your pocket or wallet.  While my own credit cards aren't like this, the GO cards we use for the buses seem to be similar, as people can just put their wallet on the machine on the bus and the card gets read.  However the GO cards I've had don't seem to like this system much and after a while have refused to cooperate, meaning I've had to replace them.  That's a bit of a pain, because you lose the money you've got stored on them, usually.

However, credit cards that can be read without you doing anything at all are a considerable liability.  Who came up with such an idea?  At this point around 200 million credit cards are contactless, and more and more of them will be in due course.

Which means even less security for the cardholder.  You would have thought that with all the problems we already have with credit card theft that adding a way that makes it even easier for thieves would have been rejected at the first post.  Nope.  Someone obviously thought the benefits outweighed the liabilities, and went ahead with the plan.

There are ways to make contactless cards more secure, but that requires forking out for yet more stuff in order to overcome problems you never asked to have in the first place.  Secure card cases and wallets that block information from being taken from the card are available.  But wouldn't it just have been easier to have thought about the consequences of contactless cards back at the beginning?

I remember reading an article years ago which said that innovation didn't always amount to improvement.  The writer was talking about taps (faucets) and the way in which they were being redesigned to look more modern - but they were also more complicated to use and less convenient in many ways.  (Don't get me started on those taps in men's rooms at airports that are supposed to turn on when you put your hand under them - and never do.)

I saw a programme on TV recently in which a man had designed and built this extraordinary house with all sorts of inventive and innovative design features, many of which were environmentally-friendly and practical and a delight to live with.  But the taps...!  They weren't visible at all: you had to pass your hand over three or four little indents in the wall above the basin in order to start or stop the tap, or to specify hot or cold.  The person doing the programme got himself unexpectedly wet by turning on the shower when he was trying to turn on the basin tap.  The ones in the kitchen of the house were not in the least intuitive - rather like some programmes when they're transferred from PC or Macs onto iPads and iPhones.

You don't have to be a Luddite to be a person who wants to stay without some innovations.  Unfortunately we live in a world where business idolises the god of innovation, and idols - as the Bible frequently reminds us -  couldn't give two hoots about those who worship them, or about those who have to do with business with them.

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