Guest Column | June 11, 2014

Biometric Adoption Finally Ready to Accelerate?

Larry Dawson Accu-Time Systems

By Larry Dawson, Accu-Time Systems

Catch up on Part 1

For decades, the collection of fingerprint data has been associated with crime investigation and law enforcement. Criminals are routinely fingerprinted and their fingerprints are entered into national databases. Crime scenes are “dusted” for trace fingerprints. People go to prison because their fingerprint has matched that found at a crime scene. Fingerprints stored in law enforcement databases are linked with other personal data, like social security numbers, addresses, etc. It is no wonder that the average employee perceives the collection of their fingerprint information as problematic.

Those of us with knowledge about the use of biometrics in workforce management continually wrestle with the public’s mis-perception of fingerprint usage. As industry professionals, we know that we’re not actually storing an image of someone’s fingerprint, as do law enforcement agencies. Instead, biometric time and attendance devices select minutiae points along the whorls, loops and arches and convert those points into an algorithmic template. That template cannot be reverse-engineered into an actual fingerprint image. This is a difficult concept for typical users to grasp. Hence, employees’ ongoing resistance to biometric devices in the workplace.

The adoption rate of fingerprint identification has been in the range of 18 – 20% CAGR for the past few years; not bad, but not as high as it should be. It appears, though, that we are at a tipping point, thanks to Apple and the company’s iPhone 5S and forthcoming iPhone 6. Apple has done a significant favor for the biometrics industry. They’ve established normalcy and acceptance for fingerprint-reading devices. The addition of their Touch ID fingerprint reader to these new class of phones has spurned a mainstream acceptance of fingerprint usage as a primary lock/unlock/recognition approach.

Samsung and other tablet/smartphone developers are now following Apple’s lead and introducing integrated fingerprint devices of their own. Furthermore, residential lock companies are now offering fingerprint-activated door locks. In other countries, like Brazil, ATM machines and other public service devices are equipped with fingerprint readers. In India, there is a major drive underway to develop a  citizen database of fingerprints to be used for government authentication and access to public services.

All around us, governments, institutions, and consumer device manufacturers are introducing fingerprint-based systems and products. As a fingerprint-enabled time clock manufacturer, Accu-Time Systems is seeing diminishing resistance to fingerprint usage in workforce management. For years, several labor and trade unions fought the adoption of fingerprint devices by their employers. Some states even maintain laws against the collection of fingerprints by employers.

But there has been a precipitous decrease in resistance in the past 12 months.  Certainly, Apple’s inclusion of a fingerprint device in one of America’s favorite smartphones has contributed to that quieting. But it is the overwhelming, and growing, number of products that now include fingerprint readers that is changing the tide. We are now at the tipping point where fingerprint-reading devices are shifting from being threatening intrusions to becoming welcome and convenient identification enablers.  

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