Visa, the credit card company, has announced it will use software on mobile phones to determine their location when customers make credit card payments. The aim is to verify if the phone is in the same place as the payment is taking place. If not, there is an increased chance that the payment will be declined. You can read the press release here.
The phone’s location is estimated by Finsphere Corporation, specialists in geo-spatial analysis. They provide their estimate to Visa who will reportedly match this with the transaction location in less than a millisecond. A millisecond is a very short period of time, and it takes many milliseconds for mobile phones to exchange signalling data with their networks, so this claim sounds like marketing hype, unless Finsphere’s analysis is being done continuously and so is made available to Visa before payments take place. What will matter in practice is the total time to collect and collate the data, not the time it takes Visa to perform their final comparison.
Customers will enroll for the service by downloading mobile banking apps from participating financial institutions. The press release states that customers will need to ‘periodically’ connect to a mobile or wi-fi network, but leaves it vague as to how accurate the location assessment will be if gaps in network coverage prevent connection. The service will be available to US card-issuing financial institutions from April 2015.
This feature is another example of the trend towards using network technology to enable constant surveillance of the individual for the purposes of enhancing security. The press release is silent about how much data is collected when the customer is not making payments, and whether the location data will be used for other purposes than verifying payments.