NFC: Now for children?

December 01, 2015

NFC: Now for children?

Near field communication (NFC) combined with the latest Internet of Things (IoT) technology is creating a generation of mini-consumers; whilst good fo...

Near field communication (NFC) combined with the latest Internet of Things (IoT) technology is creating a generation of mini-consumers; whilst good for retailers, is it good for society?

Undoubtedly stretching back to the invention of money itself, generations of adolescents, arguably tarnished by consumerism, have demanded the opportunity to earn “pocket money”. Some trade this pocket money against useful assistance with household chores, and others, through a misaligned sense of entitlement, expect parental recompense purely for their very existence. Whilst currencies have naturally changed over this period, it’s only recently that anything other than physical notes and coins are a valid medium. This restricted parents from maintaining any level of control over their offspring’s choice of purchases and, children as they are, always ran the risk of theft or simply losing such cash.

A range of “pre-paid” debit cards, designed for children and funded by their parents, were pushed as the solution; adolescents no longer had to be trusted with cash and parents could theoretically see what they were spending their pocket money on. The failure of these cards is they rely on them remembering their pin (mine can’t remember what they ate for lunch today!) and they permit cash withdrawal, which instantly denies any opportunity to monitor that expenditure. The solution is contactless payments through near field communication (NFC), which in the UK remains in its infancy. Contactless debit and credit cards are ubiquitous in the UK and increasing numbers are utilizing the Apple Pay service, though I wonder if more through pretentiousness than convenience – removing and unlocking my smartphone is far more effort than tapping my contactless card.

You only have to watch children’s TV channel commercials to understand just how important the adolescent market is, and retailers have known this for decades. The world we live in today where teenagers are desperate to be seen as “adult” at younger and younger ages means the traditional youth markets of toys and sweets are now just a segment of that market. Young teenagers increasingly shop, dine, and visit entertainment establishments without parental supervision and are demanding more pocket money to do so – how do parents satisfactorily control this?

Outside of the upper echelons of society, few children are in possession of the latest smartphone and those prepaid cards, which are increasingly NFC-enabled, but still enable cash withdrawal. Whilst our youth don’t have the latest smartphones, they invariably do have smartphones. To encompass this booming market, smartphone manufacturers must push this technology into their entry-level range. The latest announcement from Android Pay suggests the accessibility of such devices isn’t far away. So where does the Internet of Things (IoT) and embedded come in?

Embedded point-of-sale devices powered by IoT will operate as transactional front ends, enabling parents to both track their offspring’s expenditure and also dictate which establishments/services they are permitted to utilize; allowances can be instantly modified and privileges granted and withdrawn at a press of a button, but that’s not all. Where the real money is spent through capturing that adolescent market is not at the point of sale – children’s TV advertising provides no opportunity to “buy now” and couldn’t, as the value of such goods can far exceed any pocket money allowance.

NFC technology integrated into advertising hoardings, from the most basic poster to the gargantuan LCD displays that increasingly brighten (or blight) retail environments, will enable youngsters to “register their interest” – perhaps adding said product to their virtual wish list or not-so-subtly bringing the product to their parents attention electronically.

The possibilities reach even wider if a way of safely and securely incorporating the child’s identification into such an NFC chip can be realized. Age-restricted services (e.g., entry to a 12-rated movie) can be accessed without the hassle of arranging a legally sound pubescent identification card. It could even request permission from a parent’s smartphone first – a methodology currently employed on Apple’s App Store.

Security must be a critical consideration here – a technology designed to protect your children from a dangerous world must not in itself endanger them through revealing their identity or private details to any unscrupulous party. As a society we must also consider how commercialized or materialistic we are prepared to allow our children to be. Evidently, there remain challenges to overcome, but the days of the true meaning of the term “pocket money” must truly be numbered.

Rory Dear, European Editor/Technical Contributor