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Let your fingerprint pay your way with PayTango


April 5, 2013

The PayTango fingerprint-based identification and payment system

The PayTango fingerprint-based identification and payment system

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The uniqueness of a fingerprint has helped keep thumb drive files, computer systems and wallet contents safe from intruders for a good while now. Now, a team from Carnegie Mellon is breaking fingerprint recognition technology into new ground with the development of a secure payment system named PayTango, that uses a fingerprint scanner to identify shoppers and pay for items.

Developed during the first Tech Startup Lab course at Carnegie's School of Computer Science in the latter half of 2012, with assistant professor Luis von Ahn (who is also responsible for reCAPTCHA and Duolingo) at the helm, PayTango was designed to consolidate the various bank, credit, loyalty, student/business ID or gift cards into one easy payment method.

By February of this year, seniors Christian Reyes (Information Systems and Human-Computer Interaction major), Brian Groudan (Information Systems and Human-Computer Interaction alumnus), Kelly Lau-Kee (Industrial Design and Human-Computer Interaction major), and Umang Patel (Information Systems major) had assembled the first prototype and were ready for a live run.

That limited pilot test was undertaken in collaboration with the university's Dining Services on one campus, with the 100 slots snapped up in a matter of hours. After gathering user feedback, the fingerprint-based identification and payment system was tweaked and expanded to three campus dining locations.

Signing up to the system is said to take just 20 seconds and involves touching the biometric scanner with an index and middle finger, swiping a credit card through a reader to associate it with your fingerprint data, and then punching in your cellphone number to set up an account (the latter is used by system admin as a means of contact). Any card with a magnetic strip can be registered with PayTango, and the blurb in the terms states that PayTango employs "industry leading information security standards and safeguards, physical controls, and security procedures" to help keep your personal data safe.

Registered users need only place their fingers on the scanner to pay the bill at the vendor's point-of-sale terminal that's connected to the PayTango reader. The payment is then automatically taken from whatever service the user selected while signing up.

Enrollment has now been opened up to all Carnegie Mellon students who are signed up for a university meal plan or one of the flexible dollar programs and, at the moment, the service is free to use thanks to contracts with merchants.

Part of the university's Greenlighting Startups initiative, and backed by Mountain View's Y Combinator startup accelerator, the PayTango team has more Carnegie campuses in its sights for the near future. It's also hoped that the system will go on to launch on other college campuses, possibly replace membership cards in local gyms, and make its way into retail stores.

Watch Reyes provide an overview of the system and its development in the video below.

Source: PayTango via Tech Crunch

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag. All articles by Paul Ridden

so they've never watched Mythbusters? http://blogs.technet.com/b/steriley/archive/2006/09/20/457845.aspx

Without even really trying, they broke through these things. Yes, that was a few years ago, but do you think they couldn't do it again. And if Adam and Jamie were able to do it, you think others wouldn't be? Others who actually focus on hacking biometrics stuff?


If you are carrying your ID card you can carry a bank card without noticeable extra effort. I use to carry my drivers license in the sweat band in my baseball cap.


Awesome - now instead of having some semblance of privacy, retailers and all their associated partners, will have our actual physical identity.

From here, they will take the advancements in detection technologies for mood, "mental mental health", "risk factors", etc. and shortly move beyond faster , more secure transactions to controlling our purchasing behavior.

Imagine New York's Mayor Bloomberg or Michelle Obama with this technology at their disposal and move forward 5? 10? years.

No thanks.

Joseph Boe

I agree... while this uses 2 fingers, not just one, in my opinion its reliability is suspect.

Of course, the magnetic stripe part of the ID helps. But I am not happy with giving my fingerprints to just anybody.

A local bank (actually a large bank, local branch) asked me for a thumbprint to cash a check that was drawn on their own bank. I told them I would not be back.

Anne Ominous

This is why I very likely never visit a great country like is the US.

To go there I need to apply for biometrical passport and give up my fingerprint to be saved into a database.

I'm sorry but I am not a criminal.

Kris Lee

I could write a book on why we need biometric, especially fingerprints, tied to our credit cards. First, full disclosure. I am with law enforcement I specialize in financial crimes of all sorts. And second, let me tell you who is against this technology and any technology tying the user to the card, with either a fingerprint or PIN. You will be surprised who is against it. THE BANKS and Credit card companies (one and the same.) And why is that. Simple they want the card to be ubiquitous. Meaning, the card can be used by anybody the card holder hands the card to. Why, because this translates to more sales, and more interest on the amount charged. ID theft is rampant throughout the US and other countries. We here in the US are being defrauded by people all over the world, who do not want to see fingerprints tied to Credit card, or ATM or any other financial card or system like the internet. There is more to this story, but space here is limited. To Mr. Kris Lee. Who are you kidding. You don't want to give up your fingerprints to come here. Then stay where you are.

S Michael

re; S Michael

So your solution is reduce the freedom of the innocent rather than catch and prosecute the criminals. Besides finger print readers are not effective enough to be worth the bother.


This can only prove that a finger was pressed against the screen. It would not matter if the finger is attached to the person. It has been very well known that a password, or some kind of PIN needs to be attached to the biometrics. This way DNA can't be stolen, but the whole person needs to be there to be authenticated.


With this technology I see more and more people 'losing a finger'... Instead of having their CC stolen, they'll have the fingers cutoff...! How practical!

To S. Michael: You do bring up a valuable point regarding the pros of this technology! Only the owner of the card would be able to make purchases, reducing the CC theft! (Unless they resort to my suggestion...!)


They are so far behind times ! I am really surprised at this coming out of Carnegie Mellon, supposedly a premium IT university.

10 years ago I got work permit for UAE. My work involved frequent traveling out of the UAE which involved clearing the immigration, both on the way in and out. The immigration department created a smart card for me which basically only stored my ID code. To enter the UAE I had to place this card on a reader and place my thumb on the scanner. The system would simply looked up the database for the ID and compare the result to the scanned image. If it matched the turn style would release the lock and I would just walk in. This took no more than a few seconds. Loss of this card did not involve any security risk as there was NOTHING on it except the ID number to be looked up!

So how is this any different from what is being touted as new technology? What happens after authenticating the ID of the individual is just software code. No Big Deal !!!!

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