Business Unusual

Signing is becoming obsolete, but you will still have a signature

When last did you need to sign your name? Was it an important legal document or only to countersign a card purchase?

While formal legal documents are still typically printed, they will need you to add your signature. Card payments, however, will only use a pin or near field communication (NFC).

When you use a wireless card, you use RFID which still requires you to enter a pin, but with NFC, not only can your phone tell the payment machine, that is your card, the card machine can confirm the transaction, so no is pin needed. The option that Samsung uses replicates the signal that swiping a card produces, so even the oldest card machines should work with it and again, no pin is needed because to access the card you need to either use a pin or more likely your fingerprint or your eyes.

Card payments are a big part of what you might still need your signature for and its days are numbered. The next most likely time you need to sign is for security when entering a building or receiving a package. At the moment you sign a piece of paper, but that means the business needs to capture that at some later point or trust that it was correct. Phone apps are better as you sign on the screen which makes it electronic and if you supplied a copy of your signature they could compare it. But even easier would be to use a photo and have the delivery confirmed with a picture. Alternatively, you could record a voice note for the service, and you can verify your receipt by saying the phrase which would be captured on the delivery person’s phone for confirmation.

Next, entering a building. Many write anything which hardly adds to the security, so a simple camera to capture your arrival and another when you leave would be sufficient. Should you need a bit more protection stating your name would allow it to both be recorded and, if required, can be used with an image search to see if the name matched the photo.

Even more secure would be registering your picture with a fingerprint. This raises privacy issues; more on that later.

Your eyes, voice and fingers can uniquely identify you as can your palm and your face. Good cameras allow us to capture better pictures, but also better fakes. New cameras don’t look at the picture only; they look at the infrared image which only a real living person has. They can also sense depth and spot a flat image

Compared to the security available in the options above; signatures are not very secure at all, but for the longest time it was not only the best option, it was the only option.

When cheques were the norm, your signature had more to do with allowing the bank to show you had written the cheque rather than prevent fraud. There was lots of fraud, and it took a long time to realise someone was pretending to be you and stealing from you.

Copying a credit card is a lot harder than copying a cheque. Adding a pin was far more secure than a signature, and it was instant.

But you can forget a pin and lose a card; the future would just require you to say you want to buy something and you would be the card and the verification.

There is one further layer of identification that is getting easier to apply and gather - DNA. The type and nature of DNA profiled have expanded and this year demonstrated how well it could be used to solve crimes. Autosomal DNA does not just carry a means to identify you; it can create a link with the rest of your family, their parents and their parents going back generations. Police identified and arrested the Golden State Killer earlier this year in this way. Police had DNA from crime scenes but none that matched their records which requires an exact match. Genealogy services offer anyone the ability to have their DNA sequenced and to find out about their ancestors and origins. There may be almost a million samples in the various databases, and some services allow you to upload a sample and see which other samples are a close match.

Police found a relative. By looking at their family, a new suspect was identified. By gathering discarded DNA samples from fluids like saliva, they got an exact match. A crime committed before the internet and before we knew how powerful DNA could be was solved.

Having a DNA sample available may well be the last signature and password we will ever need, but as is often the case, the technology has run ahead of the regulations and ethics that need to be resolved before it can be used with confidence.

If you have a young child, they will not need to sign their name in the future, and thankfully they will also not need passwords either.

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