Creepy Fingerprint Pay Processing Company Shuts Down

Reader Michael writes in to let us know that the creepy biometric payment company that was operating in supermarkets such as Jewel-Osco has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

From their website:

Solidus Networks, Inc., dba Pay By Touch, regretfully announced today that it will no longer process biometric transactions on behalf of its merchant customers and consumer membership base, as of 11:59:59PM March 19, 2008.

On December 14, 2007, Solidus Networks filed for U.S. bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11. As part of the company’s restructuring, it was determined that the enterprise could no longer support the biometric authentication and payment system as it currently exists, based on lack of funding and current market conditions.

Reader Michael says:

I don’t know if it’s because of lack of demand, or they finally realized that collecting biometric data on customers for the simple purpose of paying for groceries was just plain evil. In any case, it’s gone now, and I can attest that the Pay-By-Touch readers at both of my local Jewel/Osco’s are now covered up with paper and hand-written notes stating basically what the article above states.

Good riddance to them, I say!

Michael

Yeah, it was a little too Gattaca for me. It seems like others felt the same way.

PREVIOUSLY: Buy Groceries With A Fingerprint

Comments

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  1. joeblevins says:

    Is this the same group that processed the payments for Piggly Wiggly down south?

  2. Imaginary_Friend says:

    Now all of those customer fingerprints are part of their assets! Hel-LO, Google!

    (And Gattaca kicks ass!)

  3. Pro-Pain says:

    Glad to see ‘em go. Creepy. Why not just leave some DNA instead? I mean really…

  4. RINO-Marty says:

    Evil? I’ll concede creepy, but calling the system evil is a little extreme. I signed up for it at a high-end grocery chain in my town because I could stop by there after a long bike ride and buy stuff without needing to bring my wallet. As it turned out, the system was way more trouble than it was worth. You had to hit about 30 buttons to get through the process, and I never got over the creep factor.

    But nobody put a gun to my head. I signed up for it voluntarily. I wouldn’t do it again, but there was nothing remotely “evil” about it.

  5. dwarf74 says:

    Back when my normal mile-walk route took me right past Jewel, I signed up for this. I figured I could grab a few groceries without having to bring my wallet on my walks.

    It worked once, and then just stopped working. I could not get the machine to recognize my fingerprints.

    Ah well. That was a waste.

  6. Leiterfluid says:

    I guess there’s something to be said about the power of paranoid consumers.
    I used to work for a biometrics company, and once you understand the technology behind it, and if the people implementing the solution are competent, it can be perfectly safe.

  7. Underpants Gnome says:

    I was wondering what happened. The Jewel by my house has a piece of duct tape over all the finger scanners, with a hand-written note that says the service is no longer available. I just figured there was some thief with a bag of dismembered fingers running around.

  8. MFfan310 says:

    Scott’s Foods here in Fort Wayne used to have Pay By Touch, too back when Supervalu owned them… I never signed up due to the creep factor.

    Still, the service lasted all of two months there, as Kroger bought them out and ditched the creepy fingerprint readers.

  9. Grimmtooth says:

    Left hand, meet right hand. Do a search of this company on your sister site Vallywag for some more insights on why this magnificent venture tanked.

    Example: replace “the demand wasn’t there” with “the CEO was an utter sleazebucket”; replace “people were concerned about the collection of biometric data” with “blew through the VC’s funding like a sailor in singapore”; you get the picture.

    Oh, by the way. The server with that biometric data? Probably up for auction. Cheers!

  10. humphrmi says:

    @Leiterfluid: Sure, I agree, but a few points:

    1. How do we know that the company that we’re giving our biometric data to is “competent”?

    2. Do these biometrics companies expect everyone to work for them in order to understand the technology? or are we all supposed to just be sheep?

    3. Paranoid consumers are good consumers. Complacent consumers get ripped off.

  11. mac-phisto says:

    does anyone remember seaquest w/ roy scheider? there was an episode where they thought they rescued some important scientist, but instead they rescued HIS KILLER who passed the sub’s biometric scan by SEWING HIS VICTIM’S FINGERTIPS TO HIS. he then proceeded to try to kill the entire crew – including the dolphin.

    yeah, so i think about that every time some mentions biometrics which is why i always carry around a sewing kit in case i’m checking out behind the likes of warren buffett or bill gates. ;)

  12. SadSam says:

    What about Disney, they collect fingerprints of everyone going through their theme park gates.

  13. Roxie says:

    Wow, I was wondering what happened. At our friendly neighborhood Jewel-Osco, there were scraps of paper covering up the Pay-by-Touch devices along with notes saying that basically, the devices couldn’t be used anymore. I assumed they were replacing those devices–I didn’t think they were going out of business. I wonder how many people signed up for the service, though–I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone “pay by touch” before….

  14. Mr_D says:

    I don’t know if it’s this way on this solution, but several other fingerprinting technologies I’ve worked with don’t store your fingerprint – it stores a one-way hash of it. This means they don’t really have your fingerprint, just a “fingerprint” of your fingerprint.

    There’s still the problem of somebody getting your physical print off of the surface of the device itself, but that’s a problem with everything we touch.

  15. Mr_D says:

    If this is anything like similar things I’ve worked with, they don’t actually store your print, but a one-way hash of it. A “fingerprint” of your fingerprint. There’s no way to recover the actual print.

    There’s still the problem of getting the print off the surface of the device itself, but that’s a problem with anything we touch.

  16. Mr_D says:

    Consumerist’s reply system is very strange. Did it take my comment? did it not? who knows, submit it again!

  17. Imaginary_Friend says:

    @mac-phisto: Never watched Seaquest, but that sounds awesome. You don’t need to lug your whole sewing kit around though; I believe Mythbusters did it with plain ole glue. Pick up some Elmer’s and you’re all set!

  18. Zombilina says:

    @mac-phisto: Yes! I think of the very same thing.

  19. Elvisisdead says:

    Seaquest was a great show. Yeah, and whoever gets the data will have to know what to do with it. There’s always the chicken little factor.

  20. Imaginary_Friend says:

    @Elvisisdead: Not necessarily. All they have to do is know how to sell it.

  21. stre says:

    creepy? didn’t you guys praise this as the best thing since sliced bread a few months ago?

  22. elephantattack says:

    @SadSam: Of course they do! don’t you know that Disney is attempting to take over the world. Sometimes I wonder if they haven’t succeeded already…

  23. fostina1 says:

    fingerprints sure beats the hell out of rfid chips and remembering pins and passwords. im all for a planetary database of all fingerprints. it can only help the world.

  24. Whtthfgg says:

    All they have is several points from your fingerprint. Not your actual fingerprint. Same with Disney. If you read up on this stuff it isnt as bad as you think.

  25. jimbobjoe says:

    It’s funny that a few people on here think that the way the fingerprint is stored (like in a one-way hash) makes a difference.

    Sure it makes a minor difference, in that the company doesn’t have the fingerprint on file. However, the creepy factor is still there–you are being identified by a machine via a system (fingerprinting) which, thanks to a variety of cultural factors, many people have a natural aversion to.

    I have to laugh though…for the last year or so I’ve had a minor skin disorder on my hands. Most people wouldn’t notice it, but it has completely wiped 3-4 of my fingerprints.

  26. redheadedstepchild says:

    In my mind, it’s a lot harder to steal my ID from a thumbprint than a cc or rfid tag.

  27. MelL says:

    @redheadedstepchild: Yet once it is had, it is had forever. There is no changing it like a CC.

  28. Grimmtooth says:

    A comment for those that suggest that PBT and similar don’t store actual fingerprint data: I agree in principle, but since I work in the software industry (and the payment industry specifically) I have to caution you that common sense and logic rarely have a place at the design table.

    This is, after all, the industry that has been retaining EXACT COPIES of your credit card track data for two part transactions for the last decade with no oversight at all. It’s taken the threat of fines (from Visa of all people) at the merchant level to get any activity whatsoever, and even at that it’s coming in 12-24 months later than mandated.

    Having SAID all that, the odds are that PBT is using a hash or specific data points rather than a rasterized image for the simple reason that it would be more CONVENIENT for the programmers to deal with than an entire rasterized image.

    That doesn’t change the fact that there is absolutely no regulatory or other oversight of biometric data whatsoever, leaving the door wide open for bozos of dubious character to get a hold of it.

    Right now I can’t decide which is worse: Disney having biometric data on me, or the government. At least with the government, we stand a chance of running the bums out. Disney answers to no one. Neither did PBT.

  29. krunk4ever says:

    I’m not exactly sure what you guys are finding creepy that these people can use a digital representation of your fingerprint with…

    To clarify, they don’t exactly store your finger print, just like any fingerprint tool you have to log into your computer, it’s only a digital representation which checks like 10pts of your finger.

    I don’t see how this is that much different than providing a social security number to your credit card provider…

    Are people afraid we’d end up where people are chopping off people’s fingers to access their account?

  30. azntg says:

    Wow.

    I really hope that those who did participate in PBT’s system gets word on what exactly happened to their fingerprints and data!