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No Cigs for You!

March 7, 2012

According to the Register, Apple was granted a patent yesterday for enabling better parental controls for near-field communication devices.

The “parental controls” patent filed in January 2009 and granted yesterday establishes a set of rules governing what Apple’s tap-to-pay chip would be capable of paying for.

Under the new safeguard system, purchases from alcohol or tobacco vendors would be blocked, and purchases from Amazon could require parental permission.

Security is a hot topic with tap-to-pay technology, and in most devices where Near Field Communications chips are used to make payments there is a maximum payment limit – usually $25 or $50. Apple’s safeguard system as laid out in this patent goes a little further, authorising payments from only certain merchants, notifying parents when a purchase is made, or blocking certain payments all together…

According to the info, Apple uses iTunes as the clearing-house, and it contains all the information to allow or dis-allow any purchases.  This enables any account owner to essentially select how phones linked to the account are allowed to purchase using a phone swipe at the machine.  This puts Apple in a very strong position, since it’s clear (at least to me) that there’s going to be eventual government regulation around near-field purchasing.  Apple is not known for being generous with its patent portfolio, especially when it feels in a strong position.  I can remember a time when my company was debating pennies with them, and they were coming back with dollars.

I have plenty of libertarian-leaning complaints with using technology to enforce lifestyle choices (which this essentially is).  But I also understand that the threat of little Jimmy being able to find a vending machine full of cigs and get a pack using his fancy phone is too much for people to resist.  Of course, I’d wonder why little Jimmy’s parents gave him a phone with purchasing power and weren’t monitoring his lifestyle choices in the first place.  After all, they’re supposed to be parents.

So I expect that Apple will have a nice in-demand set of IP that will make it a nice check sometime in the future.  And I expect that we’ll be seeing a lot around phones and how they can be used for evil as well as good.  And in the mean time, technology will keep rolling along nicely, thanks.

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