Hong Kong start-up adds fingerprint smarts to phones

Fingerprint scanning technology on smartphones is no longer exclusive to the iPhone 5s or the HTC One Max.

A Singaporean living in Hong Kong has developed simple third-party fingerprint scanning dongles for Android and Apple devices. He has also integrated the dongle into phone cases for Samsung phones.

Launched here last Wednesday, these two FingerQ PrivacQ devices are the brainchild of MrAllen Tseng and his Hong Kong-based team at World Wide Touch Technology Holdings.

They can be used only with the FingerQ app, which is available from both platforms' app stores. A user first encrypts his data through the FingerQ app, then swipes his thumb on the PrivacQ hardware to affirm his identity.

He can also use it to send encrypted text messages and pictures to friends on the firm's QChat platform. These can be decrypted only by the fingerprint of the designated friend.

This function takes security a step further than the iPhone 5s' Touch ID fingerprint scanner, which only locks phones and restricts access to the Apple App Store; and HTC's One Max, which lets users lock their apps but does not offer encrypted chat.

Said Mr Tseng: "Enteprises might want to use encrypted chat to share texts and pictures so that these cannot be shared again on social networks."

They would appear as gibberish to those who lack fingerprint access, he said.

"The man on the street can also use it to protect private texts and images so only their loved ones have access to them."

Such biometric technology may seem to make communication more secure, but it is not immune to hacking. Hackers, for example, have defeated Apple's Touch ID system with fingerprints lifted off the backs of iPhones.

However, Mr Tseng claims that FingerQ's technology is more secure.

"I believe Apple's technology requires fingerprint data to be transmitted from the device to the circuit board for a match. There may be possible loopholes in between which allow hackers to tap fingerprint data.

"We try to detect and match fingerprints within one circuit board, which makes it hard to hack."

Singapore is the second market in which these products have been launched. Since it was launched in Hong Kong in September, 20,000 PrivacQ-cases and dongles have been sold, said MrKelvin Wong, the company's chief executive.

Mr Tseng said the company is working with BlackBerry Messaging and WeChat to launch a version of these chat services with biometric encryption next year.

It is also talking to credit card companies and online payment services, such as PayPal, to integrate biometric functions for mobile phone payments.

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