Multi-Use ID Cards
My eleventh column for Wired.com is about ID cards, and why you don’t—and won’t—have a single card in your wallet for everything. It has nothing to do with security.
My airline wants a card with its logo on it in my wallet. So does my rental car company, my supermarket and everyone else I do business with. My credit card company wants me to open up my wallet and notice its card; I’m far more likely to use a physical card than a virtual one that I have to remember is attached to my driver’s license number. And I’m more likely to feel important if I have a card, especially a card that recognizes me as a frequent flier or a preferred customer.
Some years ago, when credit cards with embedded chips were new, the card manufacturers designed a secure, multi-application operating system for these smartcards. The idea was that a single physical card could be used for everything: multiple credit card accounts, airline affinity memberships, public-transportation payment cards, etc. Nobody bought into the system: not because of security concerns, but because of branding concerns. Whose logo would get to be on the card? When the manufacturers envisioned a card with multiple small logos, one for each application, everyone wanted to know: Whose logo would be first? On top? In color?
The companies give you their own card partly because they want complete control of the rules around their own system, but mostly because they want you to carry around a small piece of advertising in your wallet. An American Express Gold Card is supposed to make you feel powerful and everyone else feel green. They want you to wave it around.