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Learning English - Words in the News
23 November, 2007 - Published 12:01 GMT
Germany fingerprint shopping
fingerprint shopping

German consumers are ditching cash and plastic in favour of fingerprint shopping. Specially registered shoppers can pay by placing their finger on a checkout scanner, avoiding the need for cash or payment cards. This report from Steve Rosenberg:

Listen to the story

A supermarket in southern Germany is the setting for a retail revolution. What is changing is not what people are buying, but how they're paying for it. I watch as one customer completes her shopping at the checkout. Instead of reaching for the handbag and taking out cash, or credit cards, or a cheque book, she puts her finger into a scanner and takes a receipt.

She's one of a quarter of a million Germans who now foot their bills with their fingerprints. Turning your digit into a debit card is simple - you just register your bank account details together with your fingerprint in the shop's database. But how safe is it? Ulrich Kipper is the IT manager who developed the system:

ULRICH KIPPER: The probability that fingerprints can be mixed up is one to 10 million. So it's a fairly low probability that we make an error. If you compare it to the likeliness of being out in the night and being robbed, I would say this happens rather frequently, and I would say with the fingerprint system we are fairly on the safe side.

Your digit can also double up as a loyalty card - so as well as paying with your finger, you can also earn points with your pinkie. And it's not just supermarkets. At some German schools, students are now using biometrics to buy their school dinners. Finger food - German style.

Steve Rosenberg, BBC News, Berlin

Listen to the words

a retail revolution
a very significant change in the way that people do their shopping

the place in a shop, especially a supermarket, where you pay for the things you are buying

foot their bills with their fingerprints
pay for their goods by scanning their fingertips at the checkout

a thumb, toe or, as in this case, finger

mixed up
incorrectly identified (by thinking that someone/something is someone/something else)

double up
have a second use/function

a loyalty card
a special card which you can use in a particular store or supermarket to collect reward points or receive discounts with every purchase

a very informal word for little finger

analysis of certain biological features using modern technology (in order to identify a person)

Finger food
this is a play on words: literally, finger food is food that you can eat without using knives, forks or spoons; here, food that you pay for using your fingerprint

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