February 06, 2006

The last (US) telegram, another FV copycat, another signature snafu

Western Union sent its last telegram last week. That's a communications method that then survived 150 years - a salutory reminder as to how long some networks take to die. Perhaps in 100 years or so we'll read about the last IPv4 packet...

Samuel Morse, inventor of the Morse Code, sent the first telegram from Washington to Baltimore on May 26, 1844, to his partner Alfred Vail to usher in the telegram era that displaced the Pony Express.

It read, "What hath God wrought?"

No news on what other countries are doing, typically.

WSJ writes on Paypal's response to Googles "imminent" entry into the payment systems business.

But PayPal must now contend with Google. The Mountain View, Calif., Web-search giant, which has terrified Silicon Valley with its ability to quickly create new consumer products and services, is developing a rival service called GBuy. For the last nine months, Google has recruited online retailers to test GBuy, according to one person briefed on the service. GBuy will feature an icon posted alongside the paid-search ads of merchants, which Google hopes will tempt consumers to click on the ads, says this person. GBuy will also let consumers store their credit-card information on Google.

Google said that it has acknowledged publicly on many occasions that it is working on payment products. The company also said it already processes online payments for ad services, as well as fees from consumers who use features such as Google Store and Google Earth. It declined to comment on any pending products.

Basically, Google is going the conventional copy-Paypal route. Install a credit card with Google, buy your retail products and get Google to aggregate the payments. You'll probably have a balance and be billed monthly. This is the same model that First Virtual pioneered, and muffed. Paypal refined it slightly (removed the two obvious bugs) and won big time. (Peppercoin tried this, not sure how they are doing.)

Why then is it taking so long? One wonders, but I'd speculate that for Google the honeymoon is over, and they have to dot the i's and cross the t's. If they muff it they might not get a second chance. Just speculation, mind.

In non-digital signature news, consider the plight of the Chairman of Qantas caught red-handed with copies of aircraft plans on entering american airspace:

Yet when the TSA rifled through her bag last year at Los Angeles Airport, their discovery of aircraft diagrams got them salivating. "Why have you got all this this?" one asked. "'I'm the chairman of an airline. I'm the chairman of Qantas," replied Margaret. "But you're a woman," replied the TSA goon. ... After a one hour interrogation and with TSA officials unimpressed by Margaret's production of official Quantas letterhead documents, she devised a way out that speaks volumes about the nature of this whole farce.

She simply wrote a note to the TSA official saying that she was CEO of Quantas and signed it.

Notice two interesting issues other than the obvious that the TSA doesn't know what planet it is on. Firstly the checker was trained to pick up on inconsistencies and picked up that a woman was calling herself Chairman. In California, that's inconsistent and politically incorrect. In Australia, that's more like a statement of pride. Oops. So there is an obvious limitation in teaching sophisticated checking of cultural cues to someone who has never left California.

Secondly, a signed statement carries enough weight to have over-ridden the entire process. What does that say about signatures? What does that say about bureaucracies and social engineering? Can you imagine the Chairman whipping out her smart card, inserting it into the TSA's reader and digitally signing a statement?

(Which brings to mind the infamous digital signing story from the 90s when the US President and the Irish PM used smart cards to sign an ecommerce agreement... After signing the treaty, they swapped the smart cards as if they were football jerseys...)

Posted by iang at February 6, 2006 09:57 AM | TrackBack
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