Cashless, Touchless Society

For the past few months I’ve been seeing ads for MasterCard PayPass and recently I’ve seen ads for Visa payWave. These are “contactless” IC cards which allow for easy and quick transactions. The only place I’ve seen PayPass at is a local Jack in the Box (yes, I like my junk food) and I don’t think I’ve seen payWave anywhere. Still, Visa claims to have thousands of establishments including big names like McDonalds so maybe I’m just not looking hard enough.

Continuing with my Japan theme (albeit a week late), I can say that like many things, IC cards have been available in Japan for a while. One of the major retail card I’m familiar with is Edy, a rechargeable debit card accepted in everything from retail stores to vending machines. Edy is quick, just touch the card over the pad and wait for the pleasant tones of money going out of your pocket into the retailer’s hands. Much nicer than the single beep demonstrated on MasterCard’s PayPass site.

Suica and Pasmo cards

I’ve actually had more experience with IC cards for train and subway usage. The Suica card has been available for use on JR trains for years, employing the same technology as Edy. At it’s introduction, the Suica card was a new concept and there was a decent ad campaign to just “touch and go”, referring to the ease at which passengers can get through turnstiles. Recently, the Tokyo Metro subways systems have adopted Pasmo. Pasmo, which I found out after picking one up, is completely compatible with the Suica cards. After years of tiny ticket juggling or buying disposable cards, there’s a single system to get around the greater Tokyo area. These cards are really convenient. It’s easy enough to just leave them in the wallet, slide the whole thing over the reader and run on to catch your soon departing train.

While these technologies in some ways make for a more secure transaction since you’re always in control of the card, it seems that once a thief has hold of the card it’s a lot easier to get away with illegal transactions. The major credit card companies offer no liability policies for lost or stolen cards as a means to mitigate cardholder worries but that only helps after the fact.

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