When Scott McCoy pays for his pancakes at Arny’s these days, he swipes a fingertip, not a card.
McCoy and about 400 other Gonzaga University students are among the first in the country to use a new program that allows access to funds through “biometric finger scans.” Students can use the scans to pay for meals on campus, and other businesses in the Gonzaga area have added or are adding the program for services, including haircuts and lattes.
“It made my parents more comfortable giving me money, because they know what I spend it on,” said McCoy, a sophomore from Fair Oaks, Calif.
The company that runs food-service operations at Gonzaga, Sodexho Inc., has started pilot versions at GU and the University of North Texas. Spokeswoman Sarah Cody said Sodexho will see how well they work before deciding whether to use the technology at any of the roughly 900 other campuses the company serves.
The program, known as iMye, operates like a gift or debit card. Students or their families deposit money into an account that can be managed online. At campus cafeterias and coffee shops, students can then use their fingers like cards – a scanner reads the print and performs the transaction.
The program doesn’t use fingerprints or maintain a database of them. Students have their fingerprints scanned, but the program uses algorithms to create an identification based on a series of numbers. No images of the fingerprint are kept, the company said.
Vijay K. Sharma, vice president of sales and business development for iMye, said Friday that the finger scans are more secure than cash or credit cards, though people have to adjust to the idea.
“If my mother were asking me that question (about security), I’d say, ‘Mom, signing your name to a receipt for a credit card and handing it over the counter to somebody you don’t know … compromises your security much more,’ ” he said.
Sharma said Sodexho is implementing the program because students and parents want security and convenience. The system gives parents more knowledge about their children’s spending, and the system can’t be used to buy alcohol.
Similar uses for biometric scanning are probably on the horizon for more consumers.
Sharma said the company working with Sodexho on iMye is also working with the Kroger chain of supermarkets to use the scans for check-cashing security.
Nick Perrault, president of the GU student body and an intern working to promote the program, said the fingerprint issue causes some concern among students, initially.
“Some students say, ‘Wait a minute. You’re taking my fingerprint? Where is that going to go?’ ” he said.
But once they understand the way it works, he said, they’re usually more comfortable. He considers it a more secure way to pay for food than credit cards or cash; there’s no card to lose or account information to be stolen. It’s also interesting because it’s cutting-edge, he said.
“There’s kind of a cool factor,” Perrault said. “Just being able to put down your finger and not whip out a card.”
Perrault and other members of the student government are working as interns to help market the program, and sign-ups around campus this year have offered a free T-shirt and a $5 credit. McCoy said he signed up a few weeks ago and has seen several other GU students do the same.
“I don’t know if that’s for the T-shirt and the $5,” he said. “I think people were kind of drawn by the technology.”