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Gas and More at Your Fingertips

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Gas and More at Your Fingertips

You can use your finger to pay at some area gas stations.

More and more stores are letting you scan your fingerprint to access your credit card or bank account. Jewel’s been using a so-called biometric payment system, which encouraged the Shell Corporation to test it here also. Now there are ten stations in Chicago where you can pay by finger at the pump. Shell says it’s one of the fastest ways to pay, but admits it still freaks people out.

Shell’s using a system called Pay By Touch--the same one Jewel has. Handy for Shell then that once enrolled, you can use Pay By Touch at any place that offers it. At the Addison and Halsted Shell station, manager Mohammed Achmad gets things started at a little kiosk.

ACHMAD: Basically I have your ID and I need the check that you’re enrolling.

That’s right, at Shell, you need to bring your checkbook for this, but never mind. Once you enter your basic information, you register two fingers, one as a spare, in case you have a cut or something.

ambi: Pay By Touch kiosk

Biometric systems don’t really copy your fingerprint. They make it into a bunch of data points, which become an algorithm unique to you. The machine links that to your name, address, financial information....and, with Pay By Touch, a seven digit pin number.

ambi: pump clunking

Out at the pump, you touch the biometric sensor, which calls up the data points...

PARKER: Just put in my phone moment please.

You need your fingerprint and the number to make it work. I don’t actually have a car, so today I’m buying gas for someone else.

GREBREGEZIABHER: First name is Sisay, last name is Grebregeziabher.

He’s a one-man cab company and fills his tank every night. And he asks the manager a big question Shell has about Chicago.

GREBREGEZIABHER: I don’t know how this technology be working in cold weather-- I don’t know if it’s going to be affected with the temperature, or down , or not.

ACHMAD: Those things things have a heater on ‘em for the winter. I don’t know if you notice it, if you put your finger there you can see that it’s warm.

PARKER: Oh, let me see.

ACHMAD: Yeah, just put your finger all the way.

PARKER: Ooh, it is kind of nice.


Extreme temperatures are just part of why Shell thinks Chicago is a good test market. People here tend to mirror the way consumers act across the country. Neither Shell nor Jewel will reveal how many have signed up, but Pay By Touch says it has about 130 million customers worldwide. The whole concept is still pretty advanced for some--kind of like how many of us felt about ATMs in the 1980s, or, even more recently:

GRANT: What the heck would I want to have a camera in a cellphone for? That seems like a really stupid idea.

Analyst Jeremy Grant of the Stanford Equity Group says the future of biometric paying may not be in this model.

GRANT: Pay By Touch was focused on getting the point of sale terminal, where you’re traditionally used to swiping your credit or debit card and putting the fingerprint sensor there. And if you really talk to people in the retail industry and in the banks, they’re moving away from having to have a card at all, but rather be able to swipe any one of a number of different devices.

Like a camera slash cellphone. Grant says a chip in your phone would also mean that if it’s lost or stolen, no one could unlock it without your fingerprint...or swipe it to use your money. I’m Diantha Parker, Chicago Public Radio.

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