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One Payment App Uses Often-Called Friends To Authenticate. (Privacy? What’s That?)

Written by Evan Schuman
February 16th, 2012

A Seattle mobile payment firm is pushing for phone purchases to be done with no PIN, arguing that with this young a market, consumer convenience needs to trump security. Given its focus on authenticating the phone instead of the customer, it’s had to get creative and might be pushing the privacy envelope. It examines the five most frequently called friends, for example, along with a list of installed applications.

Whether or not its methods go too far, it’s in good company in the mobile early-stage convenience versus security argument, with both PayPal—and its phone-less and card-less purchases at Home Depot—and Visa, which is pushing PIN-less EMV transactions while MasterCard is taking the more secure and less convenient pro-PIN EMV position.

The efforts of the Seattle firm—which had been known as Billing Revolution but is now called Buck—are different based on the mobile platform involved. That’s true for several reasons, but one of them is that Apple on Wednesday (Feb. 15) banned Apple apps from engaging in exactly that type of conduct.

“Apps that collect or transmit a user’s contact data without their prior permission are in violation of our guidelines. We’re working to make this even better for our customers. And as we have done with location services, any app wishing to access contact data will require explicit user approval in a future software release,” said the statement, which was issued after requests from a U.S. congressional committee.

The question of explicit user approval, though, crops up in the Buck efforts, because the firm has received that approval from its customers. That said, it wasn’t an opt-in where customers could choose to allow that data exchange via a choice in an Options area. The opt-in was part of the mandatory terms and conditions of the app. In other words, if users don’t agree, they are prevented from downloading the app and certainly from using the app. Either way, Buck will not be using that personal information for Apple phones and will instead use it solely for Android phones, said Buck CEO Andy Kleitsch.

The company is relying on more than device attributes for phone authentication, including operating system version, an app cookie, the SD card, the nature of a Wi-Fi connection, carrier, CPU performance and other items, said Buck CTO Randy de los Reyes.


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