The latest Mercedes-Benz S-Class has a fingerprint sensor tucked away under its infotainment display; new EQS has one in front of the armrest. These are physical and capacitive sensors like the ones that have been in smartphones for years. As they are, you can use them to associate your preferences, such as sitting, for example, with biometrics. When you get into the car, all you need to do is press your thumb in the right place and the whole interior will adjust to your liking.
It’s not a bad idea. Memory buttons, usually placed next to power seat controls, once served this purpose quite well. But modern luxury cars are now much more customizable than ever before, especially when it comes to the user interface. Also, those memory buttons may have allowed you to store settings for two, maybe three drivers. Meanwhile, the MBUX system can save up to 800 custom profiles – you know, in case you share your S-Class or EQS with a big family.
I don’t hate him entirely, even though I deplore the connected car-smartphone comparisons which automakers have been obsessed with for the past decade. Comparisons the world’s biggest automakers still love to make, even though they’re only now embracing the technology that debuted in the iPhone 5S in 2013.
But of course, that’s not the only purpose of the fingerprint sensors of these two flagship Mercs. In November, Daimler announced a partnership with Visa to use these sensors as a way to validate on-board payments. Of course, this has always been part of the plan, but now the real goal of their implementation is about to be realized. Automotive News reported it just three days ago, but the ad actually went under everyone’s radar earlier in the month.
Biometric payment authentication is expected to start rolling out in supported models in the UK and Germany in spring 2022, according to Mercedes. The rest of Europe should follow thereafter, then the world. The functionality is possible thanks to Visa’s Cloud Token Framework. As you go through the description of how Cloud Token works below, keep in mind that the phone in your pocket has been doing essentially the same thing for the past eight years:
Mercedes pay is a component of Daimler’s mobility and digitization strategy and a business segment of Daimler Mobility. Daimler will be the first automaker in the world to integrate the Visa Cloud Token Framework into its vehicles. The Visa Cloud Token Framework is a cloud-based security technology that allows more flexibility across multiple devices, as Visa Cloud Tokens protect and remove sensitive payment information by converting the data and storing it securely. They also allow pairing of multiple devices in and beyond the car, which are then integrated directly into the consumer’s bank credentials. This dramatically improves the overall payment experience, as consumers no longer need to enter long card numbers to make a purchase or switch between devices to authenticate payments. The solution will be used to initiate two-factor authentication.
If the fingerprint sensor is already in the car, I guess it can be used for payments as well. A PIN code would really suffice, given that it’s extremely unlikely that someone would be in your car buying six months of navigation or Merc’s pothole warning service without your presence. Cars are not phones. But the entry of PIN codes introduces friction – the dreaded word used by marketers to refer to the time that elapses between you consider a purchase and finalize it, during which you can reconsider your decision. Friction is not good!
People who can afford to drop six figures on a car also have the money to buy other things, and Mercedes wants to make it as easy as possible for them to do that. Of course, there are compelling reasons to use biometrics for this purpose, but that little square next to the hazard lights seems less practical and more publicity to me.