mobile payments could make your ewallet a lot lighter

The idea of paying for things with your mobile phone in Canada is gaining momentum. Again. The politicians, the banks and the mobile carriers all stir this pot every few years.

The idea of paying for things with your mobile phone in Canada is gaining momentum. Again.

The politicians, the banks and the mobile carriers all stir this pot every few years.

So don’t get too excited. It’ll die down here again soon.

At first blush, this thing called “mobile payments” seems like a grand idea. Leave your wallet at home! Just pay for stuff with your phone!

If that sounds kind of futuristic, well, it isn’t. It’s just that you’re in Canada. As usual, most of the rest of the world is way ahead of us on this.

But for once, that might be a good thing. There are a lot of reasons not to use your mobile phone as a payment device.

I’ll start with Smurfberries. There’s been a lot of real money spent on these imaginary morsels in the Smurf Village iPhone game.

And a lot of that money was blown at the behest of the innocent pokes and taps of toddlers playing on their parents’ phones. Oops. $100 for a barrel of Smurfberries? Sorry, mommy.

It’s not a giant logical leap from there to imagine a teenager out on a Friday night, toting a parent’s phone for safety. Then charging a dinner for 10 hungry friends at Earls to the device.

Sure, turning a mobile phone into an “eWallet” is a good way to consolidate all that crap that fills up your pockets and your purse.

In another light, though, that’s a really good example of putting all your eggs in one basket. What if you lose your phone? Wow, then you’re totally screwed. You can’t even call the bank to cancel your credit cards.

Sure, maybe using a mobile phone to pay for things will make checkout easier and more convenient. But is that what we really want: a quicker way to empty our bank accounts and grow our debt?

The debt load of Canadian families is already at an all-time high (more than $100,000 each!) and interest rates are posed to start climbing. Should we really be looking for ways to technologically enhance our spending habits?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to build new technical solutions that cut our spending, reduce our debt, and even save money?

A phone that can handle mobile payments is like a little devil on our shoulder: “Come on, just buy the freakin’ deck furniture! Sure you’ve already got a set at home, but it’ll be cool: you can use your Blackberry to pay!”

What if we instead turned our phones into digital consciences? Like, say you walk into a Starbucks. Your iPhone immediately buzzes and a message pops up on screen: “Another latte, dude? Seriously? That’s the third one this week! You know, you haven’t put any money in your savings since January. So just turn around now and I’ll tuck that $5 away for you.”

That sounds like a great idea for us maybe, but not for the companies in the finance and technology industries. They want us to spend money, because that’s the easiest way to make money off of us.

As consumer borrowing stalls in Canada, banks are getting desperate to find new ways to profit from us. Disproportionately large service fees on a trendy new payment method sound like a good way to squeeze each of us for a few bucks a month.

Then there are the carriers. You know they’re drooling over the notion of a new source of revenue. They’ll skim a little off of every transaction that travels over their network and smile at you like you’re not already paying them for that data.

And Google can never get enough information about us. Android devices will deliver a new bounty of consumer data directly to the warehouses of that American advertising juggernaut.

That’s the funny thing about mobile transactions. They seem simpler to us. We’ll just wave our phones to spend our money. But in fact there are now more companies involved in every transaction than ever before, each with its hands out.

On the upside, because of the doddering rate at which technology advances in the Great White North, we’ve got a couple years at least before our phones even approach “eWallet” status.

And maybe that’s a good thing. It’ll give us time to consider whether we really want the powers that be to lubricate our spending power.

Oh, who am I kidding? We’re “consumers” for crying out loud. We’re gonna love this! We’re programmed to spend money we don’t have on stuff we generally don’t need. We’re easy marks and mobile payments are just the next form of ammunition we’re going to get bombed with.

At least it’ll be cool. Kinda.

Andrew Robulack is a writer and consultant specializing in technology and the internet. Read his blog at

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