When Old Friends Die
You Don't Lose Your Civil Rights Just Because You Get Old

Elders and Fingerprint Technology

A long time ago, back in 2008, Crabby Old Lady was invited to speak at Gnomedex, a Seattle tech conference produced by Chris Pirillo that featured mostly tech entrepreneurs and enthusiasts as both attendees and presenters.

So what was Crabby, age 67 at the time, doing there? She is glad you asked: she was talking to those young techies about how to make their hardware and software more elder friendly.

Crabby Old Lady doesn't have a lot of experience at public speaking to begin with and looking out at that sea of faces young enough to be her grandchildren made her nervous. But she needn't have been.

For the rest of the conference following her presentation, she had a bunch of fine conversations with those young people who were now taking elder design seriously.

It was very cool and although Crabby does not claim full responsibility, maybe she made a dent in some designer's thinking because a lot of hardware and software is much easier these days for old people to use.

Now, however, the issue has re-emerged due to a groundswell of news this past week about biometrics and it has Crabby thinking that although Gnomedex is no longer being produced, maybe she needs to find some other conference and do this all over again:

“Touch ID fingerprint sensor 'a potentially game-changing hardware feature' [writes] veteran technology reporter Walter S. Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal” as quoted at investorideas.com.
“iPhone Fingerprint Feature Renews Biometrics Debate,” headlines the Austin American-Statesman.
“The use of biological markers like fingerprints, faces and irises to identify people is rapidly moving from science fiction to reality,” chimes in The New York Times while calling on Congress to enact legislation to govern the use of biometrics vis a vis privacy.

Apple's new iPhone was released on Friday and it took only until yesterday, Monday, until some hackers announced they had cracked the device's fingerprint scanner.

Hacking and privacy issues aside, there is no doubt that using biometrics to lock up what people don't want others to see will become increasingly common and god knows Crabby is eager to give up the dozens of passwords she can't keep track of.

But maybe she and other old people won't be included because once again, the developers, designers, technologists, programmers and others working on fingerprint technology have failed to include elders in their homework and thinking.

As Crabby reported to you back in February, during a background check for some volunteer work she does, she became a fingerprint reject and was required to return to the Clackamas County Sheriff's office for a second go at it.

The reason is that old people's fingerprints are hard or, sometimes, impossible to scan:

”...fingerprinting did have significant engineering issues,' according to Ross Anderson, professor in security engineering at the University of Cambridge [England] Computer Laboratory. ‘There are some people whose fingerprints you can’t scan,' he said, 'people like bricklayers and tilers whose fingers have been worn flat.

“‘Old people tend to have much less distinct fingerprints than young people for similar reasons,' he continued.”

The Scientific American website explains that

”...the elasticity of skin decreases with age, so a lot of senior citizens have prints that are difficult to capture. The ridges get thicker; the height between the top of the ridge and the bottom of the furrow gets narrow, so there's less prominence. So if there's any pressure at all [on the scanner], the print just tends to smear.”

As much as Crabby Old Lady dislikes the necessity of having 40 or 50 passwords, she's going to hate it a whole lot more when she's trying to get money from an ATM or is “signing” for a credit purchase with her fingerprint and the machine can't read it.

But that is what's going to happen if fingerprint technology developers don't plan for millions of elders whose fingerprints will fail to register if a solution is not found.

Now, before fingerprint readers are widely adopted, would be the time to work on it. Or does Crabby Old Lady need to give another presentation?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henry Lowenstern: Longevity


Yes, this would be a good time. The big techie thingy is in January at Vegas. Maybe there's room for you there.

Oh yes,give the presentation. I had to get fingerprinted for a background check so I could care for my DIL's two foster babies. It took three tries to register all my shiney fingers. In between tires I super moisturized my digits. Before the last try I wore those white gloves people use to protect their hands at night, heavily soaked with face cream. The third time worked. DIL's aunt didn't make it and they background checked her some other long drawn out laborious way.

My gym uses a fingerprint scanner for IDs. I admit that as I approach the place, I have lick my finger surreptitiously so that it will work. This comfy little gym is full of people older than I am (66). Wonder if we all do the same? The bright young things at the desk would never know.

Woe is me; another thing to worry about. Sigh!

Yes, please give another presentation and another and another. . .

Why can't they call us "older" people rather than "old" people! I am "older" ....
definitely NOT "old."

I am 72; no amount of lotion, licking, etc., would make a fingerprint that obviously isn't there anymore. My finger tips are slick. I have wondered this same thing since I had to have the tips checked to do volunteer work. They just accepted my other background information. I have no clue what you'd do with one of the new phones....

At Time Goes By, old people are old. Or elders. It's not "they." It's me, the proprietor, and many of the people who hang out at this blog who are happy to be alive in our old age and who refuse to speak in euphemisms about what we are. Old is old.

This was the first thing I thought of when I saw the new iphone. I guess there's simply not enough of us older people to make a difference.

It's an odd, weird thing that fingerprints wear out. If you haven't experienced it, and you haven't read about it, it wouldn't occur to you to wonder about whether fingerprints last a lifetime.

Somebody invite Crabby to speak!

I live in Silicon Valley and am constantly reminded how invisible us old folks are to the much younger (and typically libertarian) techies. That we can't produce clear fingerprints is well-known. As is the fact that there are many of us and we actually buy technology.

In seeking funding for services for low-income elders, I hit a brick wall again and again. Surrounded by wealth, corporate and private, old folks are notably absent from the lists of "funding priorities."

Wishing you many invitations to speak and write about this.

I'd been wondering why my fingers felt so "slick," yet wasn't conscious of actually thinking about it. Thanks for bringing me up to date on the matter. With all the old folks being tech-savvy now, those in the industry better start thinking about it. Until a couple of years ago I always referred to myself as "older" not wanting to go whole hog and say "old." Now after finally just saying it, it feels great. Just last week one of my daughters commented that I'm developing jowls. I responded that gravity has had many years to work on me and that I'm old so jowls just fit the picture. Don't necessarily like jowls, but there it is.

My HP computer has fingerprint recognition; it never worked for me. Now I know! I wonder if there is a problem with old people and eye scanning. I would love a simpler workaround for passwords. My son uses a program that keeps all of your passwords and you only have to remember one password. I am not brave enough to use that yet.

I guess it's lucky for the police that old people don't commit very many crimes, since apparently we wouldn't leave as many clues.

When I worked for the local PD I knew that people in occupations such as stonemasons, cement finishers and quilters were hard to fingerprint. Generally the quilters had two or three "non-printable" fingers.

I wonder if that also contributes to my problems with touchpads e.g. on PCs, my eReader? Quite often, they just don't respond at all. I hope I don't have to lick my fingers to turn pages on the eReader!!

So essentially what's happening is that technology is literally thumbing its nose at us older folk. hmmm

You definitely have to give another presentation. I just returned from a few weeks back east and in Canada--and I remembered when you were selling your NYC place. And then it was Portland, ME and now Portland, OR, right? Anyway, I've been bad about following my favorite blogs or even posting to my own since Facebook, but I'll definitely come back here. I'm 76 now, still working part-time and the world is changing so fast around us. On the plane coming home I watched a zany comedy with Vince Vaughn called The Interns. It was a lot of fun because they were trying to get jobs at Google. Everyone there was so young. Check it out.

Before passwords go, here's a great way to remember/make them. Use the name of the site, capitalize either the first or last letter, follow with an uppercase sign(#,*,~, etc), then, using your initials, number them via the alphabet. Sound difficult, but it's easy. Here's an example: ebaY^125 (for Abe). So all you change is the name of the site. Hope this helps some.

I'm with Ronni: I am definitely old. About 60 years ago, I was taught the ways of advertising. When they say that something is "better" or "lighter" or "older", the first question that comes to mind is, "Than what?"

In 1959, the security people where I worked had me return several times to be fingerprinted again, as the clearance-granting folks couldn't read them. That experience was repeated several times in various places by various companies and federal agencies in the 1970s and 1980s, and as recently as 2010. Having never had fingerprints that could be read, I always thought that I missed my calling as an assuredly non-violent criminal. So...how will I notice the difference now that I am old?

Yes, do another presentation! Add to it instructions for web designers/graphic designers that yellow or green words on white may look really "cool" to THEM...but it is SURE to drive off elders like me with vision issues! When I cannot SEE an item and/or its description and price, I'm NOT going to buy it!! They get really crazy and put light pink on light green, lemon on lime, fluorescent yellow on orange...any number of combinations, which, if I had 20/20 would be fine, but I don't have 20/20, and I have endothelial dystrophy, which causes "halos" around bright items! So, please please talk these youngsters into being gentle on my old eyes!!!

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