Right before exiting the door every morning, each and every one of us checks our pockets for a few items. These usually included keys, wallet, cell phone, and chewing gum. Once we ascertain that it is all there, we feel confidently equipped to take on a normal day. We know that we can operate the doors with the keys, communicate on our cell phones, pay with our credit cards, and have wonderful breath while coolly chewing gum. However, we are all about to experience a culture shock.
Cell phones equipped with “near-field communication” are set to change the way we make payments. The payment process will be simplified to holding a cell phone near a reader. Currently, CingularWireless, Nokia, and MasterCard are teaming up to test this type of payment option in New York. Interestingly, the service has been available in South Korea and Japan for the last two years.
The question now is, “so what?” How does paying with a cell phone make any difference? For one, you might no longer have to carry the wallet. That is one less item to check for in the morning and saves some pocket real estate. But, this is probably the least of the implications. More and more, the cell phone is becoming the ultimate “all in one” gadget. It allows us to talk, send messages, play games, listen to music, store information, keep calendars, navigate with GPS, and now, make payments. One device seems to hold all the answers, like a magic wand from a fairytale.
This unification of functionality opens convenient new ways for companies to data mine customers. One single device will contain enough data to have marketing research professionals drooling. For now, it is only purchases that they can track directly. Give it a little time, and there will be scanner devices everywhere you go. Without making a purchase, the mobile providers will have access to information that will detail every single store you visit during your stay in the mall. I think it is becoming clear, if not crystal already, how privacy plays into this new technology. With the cell phone becoming an almost inescapable need, how much about ourselves are we truly willing to divulge to large corporations. After all, your phone conversations, purchases, music taste, emails, and places you travel, have quite a bit to say about you. Without much choice, all of a sudden this information is available to parties I am not sure I trust. Who else can have access to this? How much is it worth to them? Should I be directly compensated for any of this valuable information I involuntarily supply? All valid questions that must be asked.
While there is no doubt that breakthroughs in communication and data management have made our lives more convenient, it feels like the average cell phone user may not be fully aware of the entire story. After all, how many of you read the very, very, very fine print? Whether we like it or not, it is nearly impossible to resist the temptation and convenience offered by the current gadget market. There is no point in resisting progress and innovation. However, being fully aware and asking the right questions are a necessary nuisance in a high-speed information age. So next time you swipe your cell phone in front of a reader, make sure you understand that other customers are not the only ones watching.