PayPal study finds consumers okay with biometrics


Visitors walk past an eBay and PayPal banner at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in this Feb. 28, 2012, file photo. (Albert Gea/Reuters)
October 9, 2013

Apple's newest iPhone may have spurred some debate over whether it’s a good idea to unlock your phone with your fingerprint, but a new study from PayPal finds that a majority of Americans are comfortable with the idea of using their biometric information instead of the pesky passwords that are currently the norm.

The survey, sponsored by PayPal and the National Cyber Security Alliance, found that 53 percent of those surveyed are “comfortable” replacing passwords with fingerprints, 45 percent would opt for a retinal scan, and 41 percent are comfortable with photo identification. This survey was conducted using an opt-in online panel, and its results cannot be projected to the overall U.S. public.

Responses to the survey sketch a picture that suggests we’re more reliant than ever on our smartphones but still very unsure about the proper security measure we should be taking on our mobile devices.

Two-thirds of those polled said that they keep their smartphones no farther than one room away — and 10 percent said they have their smartphones in hand at all times when not showering or sleeping. But nearly as many people, 63 percent, said that they don’t know or are unsure about what kind of financial information they store on their phones.

So it's no surprise that while nearly a quarter of respondents say they’ve completed at least one transaction on their phone per day and one-fifth have installed payment apps on their phones, nearly 70 percentfeel that storing payment information on mobile devices isn't safe.

That’s one of the obstacles that's proven a problem for companies of all stripes trying to increase adoption of mobile-based payments. The survey did find that around 17 percent of Americans said they conduct at least a quarter of their purchases via smartphones in an average week, but the data also show that consumers need convincing about the need for mobile payment options and reassurances that paying by phone is really secure.

One thing that does appear to be clear from the survey is that consumers want companies to do the bulk of heavy lifting when it comes to securing financial data. While those surveyed said that they’re comfortable with using their biometric data to replace passwords, it turns out not that many of them actually use them for their phones.

More than half, 56 percent, told PayPal that they do not take the simplest step to protect their mobile devices — setting up a PIN number.

The survey was conducted for National Cyber Security Awareness Month and fielded responses from 1,000 U.S. adults on Sept. 17 and 18, 2013.

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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