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Me and Britney

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[Dave Birch] I loved my Britney Spears card.  Younger readers may not remember the time when Ms. Spears was the biggest pop star in the world and, astonishing as it may seem, her fan club launched a smart card kit.  Fearing that I would end up on some police database, I bullied my sister-in-law into joining the fan club on my behalf and ordering one for me.  That’s how dull my life was: I wasn’t interested in Ms. Spears big hits, I wanted the card reader.  The kits, which had been developed by Internet PLC, a U.K.-based company.  The company developed the SmartFlash content sold the kits via the web and at her concerts.  The Britney smart card provided access to a secure web site with video clips, e-cards to mail to friends and a preview of her upcoming video game. They sold more than 25,000 kits at $29.95 before they were discontinued.  But they worked.

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This is the experiment we carried out in the office…

  • We plugged in a financial services company’s smart card reader.  It didn’t work.  We downloaded some drivers, reloaded the software, rebooted.  The card reader was visible to the software, but nothing happened when we put the card in, so we gave up.
  • We plugged in the Britney smart card reader (actually, as I recall, a rebadged GCR 400) and it worked first time.  We inserted the Britney card and it launched Explorer and took us straight to the members-only section of the Britney web site.
  • Somewhat surprisingly, we discovered that the financial services card that we were testing worked perfectly in the Britney reader.  In other words, having installed the Britney reader we could now carry out secure financial transactions on line.

The point is, it worked.  And it was designed for 9-year old girls to use.  I always wondered why banks couldn’t learn from Britney’s trailblazing smart card expertise.  It would seem relatively trivial to use a $5 smart card reader, an EMV card and a few bytes of application code to create a Britney-like home banking experience.  Plug in the reader, insert your debit card, your default web browser takes you to your bank home page.  You enter your password and you are away, provided that the card is present.  No card, no log in.  The software to do this (standard SSL client-side certificates) is present in almost all web servers and web browsers but it’s not used because the average person has no idea what a certificate is.  This way, they don’t need to know: all the customer needs to understand is no card, no log in.

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If you’re wondering why I was thinking about this, it’s not because I’ve been looking at pictures of Britney in Heat magazine, but because I came across another female pop singer while searching for something else to do with smart cards (honestly).  Lebanese-Columbian songstress Shakira has been touring in the UAE and a ‘smart chip payment concert card’ was one of the attractions.  The card issuer, Vice Versa International said guests would be able to purchase the card prior to the concert for use as an e-purse and as an access card for the VIP area.  The credit on the card can be topped up at reloading stations within the VIP area by using cash or a credit card.  I couldn’t see if it can be used on line, but where Britney has blazed a trail, others will surely follow.  To borrow David Edgerton’s phrase, it’s the shock of the old.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

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