December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

The sound of online payment

Buses around the world have accepted so-called contactless smart cards for some time. The card emits radio signals and the rider waves it near the farebox. The farebox picks up the message and automatically records the rider’s fare paid.

Now it’s the Internet’s turn for radio cards.

With a new technology by Tel-Aviv, Israel-based ComSense Technologies Ltd., an online buyer aims a card at the computer microphone and presses a button on the card. The computer’s sound card captures the payment information stored in the card and sends it to the web retailer. No longer must the shopper key in card numbers, address, etc. And ComSense says the transaction is secure.

A few hundred online traders already use the ComDot Internet card in Israel, says Alon Atsmon, CEO. “Our message to consumers is that everything they want to do offline is done with a regular credit card magnetic stripe and everything they want to do online is done with the button on the ComDot card,” says Atsmon.

The card is slated for use in a variety of online financial transactions, including payment and filling out forms for online shopping as well as authenticating users for online banking. Unlike smart cards, which have been promoted by the banking industry as the next step for security online, the card does not require consumers to download software or use an adjunct card reader.

“We are able to approach the mass market with a convenience factor because they can start using the card without software or card readers. We’ve taken away those two barriers,” says Atsmon.

ComSense is working with undisclosed partners to develop the technology within a card product and possibly with an electronic wallet. An electronic wallet partner would use special software to translate the radio signal into encrypted messages.

The online merchant accepting the card transaction would not have to alter its card acceptance process because the ComDot Internet card transaction would look the same as other encrypted online card transactions, says Atsmon. In fact, Atsmon believes the higher security measure could eliminate the higher discount rates that merchants must pay for card-not-present transactions because the encrypted radio transmission authenticates the card user. In fact Visa is reported to be planning to drop the card-not-present premium for mobile-access devices by year’s end.

According to Atsmon, background noise will not affect the information transfer because the technology relies on high-frequency channels in which background noise does not register. “We have tested the technology in airports, restaurants and other busy places and it is not affected,” says Atsmon.

ComSense, which plans to have cards in U.S. market by the end of the year, may have some strong allies in the payment industry that could make a rollout viable. Visa International Chairman Malcolm Williamson is a member of ComSense’s board of directors.

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