8.10.2014 | Alas, poor Square Wallet

In April of last year I wrote about Americans' privacy paranoia and how it was standing in the way of technological progress. Today I learned that as of May this year, that paranoia has likely claimed a new casualty: smartphone-based payments at major retailers that accept Square.

When it first came out, Square let retailers accept credit cards, but it also allowed anyone with the Square app on their phone to pay using their phone—what should be a relatively straightforward proposition. But "it never caught on," according to Square. So this year they decided to kill it.

It was a feature that PayPal copied wholesale and added to their own offering. It had seemed to me at the time to be the future of smartphone-based payments at retailers: no RFID chip, no special hardware. And with a photo-based identity verification system, virtually bulletproof security-wise.

Despite the fact that credit card companies have adopted $0 fraud liability policies, Americans still seem incredibly reluctant to hand over their credit card information to anything that doesn't resemble a bank. And that's a shame. All that time we spend in line at stores while people are fumbling for change or getting cards out of their wallets could be spent doing other things. It may seem like a small thing, but multiplied over millions of people it's a huge sunk opportunity cost.

I can only hope that someday America overcomes its fear of gadgetry and payments. Waiting in line at the store is a drag, and we should just be able to swipe and go. Hurry up, future. It's 2014 already. How much longer will we have to wait for people to learn how to computer?

Edit: Since I posted this, Apple Pay was announced. It looks like NFC is the future of electronic payment (the physical interaction must make people feel safer, but it also means more equipment shopkeeps have to invest in—I hope Square decides to help ease that process).

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