[ Tech Comm ] The Return of the Fingerprinting World

I helped a friend of mine connect her iPad to a wireless router. She needed to enter the DSL password, which was supposed to be jotted down in a note she couldn’t find. After two hours of search, she gave up and called the network provider. She changed the password, and—of course—noted it down in a piece of paper. I saw a karmic connection in action.

I am no different from her. My “notes” are my email messages, which I look up at least once a month. And of course I carry the risk of forgetting the email account password. Maybe I can dumb the “master” password down to my birthday or something, but then someone will take over my email account, thus my entire asset, in an instant.  The most unreliable people in this world are ourselves.

We seriously need a system that allows us to protect valuable information without relying on our memory. Biometrics is the easiest solution, therefore some computer makers embedded fingerprint readers into their laptops. And they failed. You can see the evidence by not seeing it: none of Apple’s laptops has a built-in reader. If Apple hasn’t employed a technology, it’s either not cool or doesn’t work or both.

Maybe the technology isn’t mature yet (yes, another way to say it doesn’t work). But the other—and bigger—reason, I believe, is that fingerprint scanners protect only the outermost layer of the security ecosystem: logging into the laptop. Our real activities occur after we enter into our computer. In this cloud computing era, fewer people store valuable information locally. What really matters appears only after we enter into the network, and the only reliable user interface to do so anytime, anywhere, is typing. That’s why we cannot rid of the password nightmare.

Until now.
The 21st century has brought a game-changing trend in user-interface: touch screen. Since the introduction of iPhone, the Big Bang, Apple has been shoving touch screens into our lives relentlessly, and it is working. I have been showing around my new Kindle to my friends, and 10 out of 10, they try to operate it by touching the screen first. Touching, not typing, is becoming our default input action now. We are getting used to press our finger tip on the surface of a screen, which could have raised quite a few eyebrows a decade ago (pre-9/11, maybe).

We are ready to embrace fingerprinting as our default input and authentication method. It should be a win-win solution for everybody. Consumers no longer worry about identity theft. Vendors no longer worry about lost revenues due to claim management. And the authorities will certainly be happy that they can force people into fingerprinting without forcing. The only thing we are missing is a startup with the fingerprint authentication app that magically translates our thumb into a password generator in a mobile device. Hello, is there someone willing to take this challenge?