New biometric security feature draws power from card readers.

File this one under “futuristic ideas that had great intentions, but could go horribly wrong.” Mastercard has conducted trials and now rolled out a version of its cards that contain a fingerprint sensor right on the card. The mechanism draws its power from the card reader, so there’s no battery issue to worry about. Basically, you insert your card into the chip reader, and instead of typing a PIN number of signing your name, you place your finger over the sensor on the exposed end of the card. The card already stores your fingerprint at the time of setup, and it compares the fingerprint at the time of purchase.

Mastercard Unveils Fingerprint Sensor On Its Cards

Fingerprint verification only protects consumers during in-store purchases


Biometric ID makes sense

This biometric form of identification really does make sense. Cards are stolen routinely, copied onto hotel key blanks, or otherwise used fraudulently. The European chip and PIN system never made its way to the US, meaning very few consumers have the protection of two-step authentication. This means the only benefit to a chip card over a magnetic stripe card is the inability to copy it easily (despite what the retailers who sell RFID-safe wallets would have you believe).

Growing trend

It’s not the first rollout of fingerprint-based identification for purchases. Even before mobile wallets and fingerprint ID sensors on smartphones, some financial institutions tried to incorporate fingerprint ID, but it required a separate gadget at the register. Stores that didn’t have that capability (and truthfully, not many did) couldn’t take the fingerprint cards.

Privacy advocates not keen

So what’s the downside? While lifting your fingerprints off an item you’ve touched and making a replica in order to use your card might sound like the stuff of Hollywood thrillers, it can actually be done. If this system forces the criminals’ hand – pun completely intended – that technology will only get easier and cheaper. Of course, privacy advocates don’t love any system that requires you to provide your fingerprints for an entity to store and call up on demand, as they’re unchangeable permanent pieces of identification. Fingerprint verification also only protects consumers during in-store purchases, meaning they’ve turned over key personal details but are still at greater risk of fraud through online purchases or telephone purchases.