Mobile Payments

Pay By Thumb — No Really

When technologists talk about ditching the wallet, they usually mean in favor of a piece of technology to be carried in its stead.

But Meow-Ludo Meow Meow (he changed his name to that about a year ago) has decided to take things to the next — and much weirder — level by having an NFC chip implanted in the back of his thumb.

Yup, we all have dreams, and this guy's dream is paying with his thumb.

Meow is part of a movement that believes in the transformative power of enhancing their bodies with technology. They call it biohacking, and Meow is one of its foremost proponents. He is the founder of Biofoundry, a community lab in Sydney, Australia. He is also running in Australia's elections as a Science Party candidate.

"If you think about it like a cat or dog microchip, it's quite quick and quite painless," he said "It's basically a little piece of memory that can do some fun stuff."

And with his work with technologists Nathan Waters and Phill Ogden, soon on the list of "fun stuff his thumb can do" will be making financial transactions by tapping his thumb on a store's contactless payments reader.

"The technology has been around for 10 or 12 years," he said.

"The only thing is having partnerships with the Commonwealth Bank and Opal to allow their back end to recognize it," noted Waters, who doesn't currently have an implant himself.

The goal for Meow is to have his thumb chip ultimately work with PayPass — MasterCard's contactless payment system — as it would allow Meow to use his thumb to pay at most Australian retailers. However, to make that dream a reality, Meow will have to update his thumb chip to one with more memory. His current 868-byte chip isn't enough.

But this is just a first step, Meow notes, and though payment is a strong use case for his implanted chip, it could be an even more powerful feature if linked to certain health-tracking functionality.

What if your in-body payment chip was connected to health sensors, for example, Meow wonders.

"If you hadn't exercised enough in a day, it might stop you from eating [bad] foods," he said. "If it had a sensor that could detect blood glucose or heart rate or it connected to a Fitbit, so that the Fitbit says, 'Oh, you haven't run today; we're not going to let you buy a Mars bar.'"

"I'm very interested in challenging people's conception of bodily sovereignty and their ideas around how you interact with technology," Meow noted.

Of course, most people are strongly not interested in having their conception of body sovereignty challenged and tend to view interactions with technology that offer those sorts of challenges more as harbingers of an apocalypse than a sign of progress.



The September 2020 Leveraging The Digital Banking Shift Study, PYMNTS examines consumers’ growing use of online and mobile tools to open and manage accounts as well as the factors that are paramount in building and maintaining trust in the current economic environment. The report is based on a survey of nearly 2,200 account-holding U.S. consumers.

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