Smart way to deal with new cards

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 August, 2011, 12:00am


A decade ago, it was still common to carry lose coins for a bus ride or small purchases around the city. But since 1997, the launch of the Octopus stored-value smart card for electronic payment has quickly revolutionised our daily lives. Nowadays, leaving home without the piece of plastic is like forgetting your wallet and keys. Not only is it widely used in public transport and retail outlets, it has also been adapted for other uses like roll call in schools and as a security pass for entering residential blocks. The card has even proved to be a useful tool to help the police track down criminals.

The pioneering technology has long been exported to cities across the border as well as countries such as the Netherlands and New Zealand. In a welcome step, a card which enables holders to shop and ride public transport here and in Guangdong will be available starting from next year. Under an agreement signed earlier, the smart card companies in both regions will issue a two-in-one card covering e-payment in Hong Kong and six cities in the province. The card can be topped up with yuan and Hong Kong dollars in two separate 'e-purses' for use in those cities. The link is a natural step to take. It can boost the economic integration across the region and speed up talks with Shenzhen, which is yet to be looped in, for a similar venture.

While the convenience brought to the tens of millions of travellers in the region will be enormous, the increasing popularity of the Octopus card also arouses some concerns. There was a public outcry when the company was found to have sold users' personal data for marketing purposes. It seems a cautious approach is being adopted by issuing non-personalised cards. Without the need to provide personal data, users can stay 'anonymous' and need not worry about the leaking of confidential information. That is a sensible arrangement. The decision not to provide automatic top-ups can also enhance user confidence in case of losses. The authorities should closely monitor the potential risks when putting the technology into wider use in the region.