abstract of an eyeWhen the 24 Hour Fitness chain announced it was scanning the fingerprints of members for entry into its gyms, the move was hailed as a step forward in preventing fraud and criticized as a step backward into Big Brother territory. But no matter how you feel about the tech-enhanced measures that businesses now take to keep an eye on you, know that they're here to stay.

Companies will be spending $7.4 billion on so-called biometric technologies by 2012, Victor Lee, a senior consultant with the International Biometric Group (IBG), told SC Magazine, a publication for IT security professionals. Fingerprint-recognition will occupy 38.1% of the market; face recognition, 19%; iris recognition, 7.7%. One older technology, blood vein pattern recognition, can still hang with the gizmo'd up new kids and is expected to grab 10% of the security budget.

Some of these outfits are not normally associated with high security needs. Remember the Rockwell song that goes, "I always feel like somebody's watching me"? You'll be singing that tune from the ATM to the candy dispenser. The following are everyday enterprises that in their own way have joined the surveillance generation.

Next Generation Vending and Food Service has already rolled out 60 vending machines that release the goodies when you scan a thumbprint registered to your credit card. The trial is happening in the Northeast. To stop crooks from forcing your thumb to the scanner, cameras inside the machine monitor the activity in front and on the periphery. Next Generation told MYFOXNY.COM that it will decide whether to expand by the end of the year.

Holt Renfrew, the Canadian department store chain, has quietly been protecting shoppers by fingerprint-monitoring its employees. If insider shoplifting and till-dipping are eradicated, so goes the reasoning, the consumer will encounter more honest, hard-working staff. It also means the store doesn't have to raise prices to compensate for lost revenue. Sales associates' prints are electronically scanned for every cash register transaction they make. Their hours and attendance are also tracked. That makes it impossible for an associate to click in a time card on behalf of an absent coworker. And that ensures we get better service from a staff that isn't AWOL.

You might ask: Why not go after the shoplifting customers instead? Because it pays to watch your own. A survey of fingerprinting deployment indicated that insider shoplifting averages $724.15 per theft, while outsiders swipe an average of $126.87 worth of merchandise, according to the SC article.

Hitachi is on the verge of putting a serious dent in ATM skimming with a device that memorizes the vein pattern in your finger. Once the machine recognizes your finger from a registry, only the real you can make transactions. Thieves who steal your pincode will be rendered powerless. Hitachi said Japanese financial institutions purchased more than 30,000 VeinID units, and Poland's Bank BPS SA became Europe's first bank to install them.

Leon, Mexico, might eventually be able to track every citizen's every move, thanks to the million iris-scanning devices that Global Rainmmakers Inc. is installing throughout the city. Criminals will automatically have their eye images taken for a municipal database, and then the company intends for the masses to get on board to make Leon the world's safest city, Global Rainmakers said in a story by Fast Company. No more bank or transit cards. Leon residents can catch a train or withdraw money simply by having their irises scanned. Prescriptions and workplace entry will eventually be monitored the same way, all in the name of stifling identity theft and shadowing undesirables who commit violent crime and fraud. High-traffic areas will be dotted with the devices, and that includes airports. The city will, in essence, spy with its citizens' eye.

Even for the less-paranoid of us who reduce author George Orwell's all-seeing Big Brother dictator in Nineteen Eighty-Four to a literary device, that's an eye-opener.

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