Thursday, March 4, 2004

Replacing All Your Credit Cards With A Card Writing Device

Wired is running an article about a new sort of device that is being designed to replace all your credit cards. It's a fascinating idea. It's a small device (the "Pocket Vault"), that comes with its own card (the "Chameleon Card") stored inside. When you first get it, you stick each of your credit cards, bank cards, debit cards, whatever cards, into the device, and it records the info on the magnetic stripe. Then, all you need to carry around is the device (with its own card inside). When it's time to use a card, you pull out the device, pick the card you want to use, and it spits out its own card with all the info on the magnetic stripe, and with a display showing the credit card number, expiration date and logo. It also includes some interesting security features. It has fingerprint recognition before you can remove the card, and if the card is out, the display fades after 10 minutes, making it useless. They claim that it will also work with RFID based systems, like the ExxonMobil SpeedPass, but don't explain how it records that info. It might also run into problems with smart cards, since it won't be able to record the info off of a chip. There are some other concerns as well. This seems like the ideal way for someone to steal credit cards if they can access your card for a bit. There are already stories of waiters in restaurants who take your credit card and run it through a skimmer to get the number. If they just use this instead, they get an automatic replica of your card. Also, you have to wonder if various clerks will freak out the first time they see this and wonder if it's legitimate. Finally, carrying around a device doesn't seem to save much space, since the device itself is probably bigger than the credit cards its replacing, and it won't fit in your wallet. Sure, the gadget geek side of me thinks this is a cool idea, but is it worth $200 to have to carry around another gadget (that also slows down the purchasing process...)? It might be a tough sell.