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Apple Pay Patent Hints at Fingerprint-Enabled Terminals

Near-field communications (NFC) may finally hit it big if Apple Pay, the company's wireless payment technology, picks up steam over the next year. In the meantime, Apple is doing whatever it can to ensure that it can provide simple and safe transactions for its customers. To that effect, the manufacturer has filed a patent for Apple Pay terminals which include an extra layer of protection via a fingerprint sensor.

Information comes from enthusiast site AppleInsider, which delved deep into Apple's patent application to bring pictures of the proposed system. In brief, the system would allow users to scan their fingerprints on either their own iDevice or the payment terminal for final verification before making a payment.

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In the patent application, Apple describes a user employing Apple Pay, then pressing his or her fingertip to either the paying or receiving iPhone or iPad. The biometric sensor scans the user's fingerprint, validates it against a record in the iCloud database, then transmits the records to the receiving device. In theory, this ensures that the person using Apple Pay is indeed the person who owns the associated iPhone or iPad.

The system would have to account for a few potential holes if it ever launched for wide-scale use. First of all, the most recent slate of iDevices allows users to log their fingerprints, but does not require it. Apple Pay would have to account for users who prefer to keep their fingerprints private.

A potentially larger problem is that the United States government does not allow companies to share biometric data over the Internet. Apple is arguably toeing a shady line by banking on the fact that ad-hoc connections are technically not computer networks, but it still wants to take information about users' bodies and transmit it over the airwaves.

There's no guarantee that Apple Pay will actually adopt fingerprint sensors, as not every patent becomes a real product. If it does, though, make sure you don't spill coffee on your fingers while paying for it.

Marshall Honorof is a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide. Contact him at mhonorof@tomsguide.com. Follow him @marshallhonorof. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.