A Phone That Reads Your Fingerprint

Kyle VanHemert wonders if the new iPhone’s fingerprint sensing technology, called Touch ID, could be transformative. He speculates that “the tiny new finger-sensing home button could be the biggest, smallest step we’ve seen towards a future where we’re buying stuff with our phones, not our wallets”:

Touch ID has farther reaching implications than simply letting you walk out of Walgreens without stopping at the register. Right now, we’re at a delicate locus where privacy is a greater concern than ever and where our digital selves are fragmented across countless platforms, apps and services. The catch, though, is that the next generation of interactive, digital experiences could well depend on some sort of unified personal profile–a more portable digital identity, including your preferences, your apps, your content, your settings and the rest, that could be brought from device to device. The fingerprint could be the key to all that.

It doesn’t solve issues of privacy and security out of the gate–not by a long shot. Armchair critics responded to the news of the iPhone 5S sensor with a common refrain: one more thing for the NSA to collect. Still, though, the fingerprint is a psychologically powerful mode of authentication. As we’ve seen, our usernames and passwords are simple puzzles to be cracked; the rise of sophisticated phishing makes them as insecure as ever. Two-step authentication remains a slightly mystifying pain in the ass. A thumbprint is essential, and elemental. It’s convenient and, at least in theory, uncrackable.