2012 will be the year that consumers will learn how to use their smartphones to make payments with smartphones. Mobile payments will see consumers paying for physical goods with near field communications, mobile wallets and PayPal among other options. It has become such a big trend in the digital economy that mobile payments have caught the attention of the federal government.

The Federal Trade Commission wants to get in on the discussion. In April, the FTC will host a workshop on mobile payments and how the trend will affect consumers in the near future. You know an emerging technology is about to explode when the federal government starts poking its fingers in it. See the details below.

From the FTC's itinerary, it looks like one of the biggest issues the government has concerning mobile payments is the protection of American consumers. Aside from an examination of the technologies surrounding mobile payments, many of the FTC's bullet points concern consumer safety and recourse in case of financial loss.

See the agenda below courtesy of the FTC's press department:

  • What different technologies are used to make mobile payments and how are the technologies funded (e.g., credit card, debit card, phone bill, prepaid card, gift card, etc.)?
  • Which technologies are being used currently in the United States, and which are likely to be used in the future?
  • What are the risks of financial losses related to mobile payments as compared to other forms of payment? What recourse do consumers have if they receive fraudulent, unauthorized, and inaccurate charges? Do consumers understand these risks? Do consumers receive disclosures about these risks and any legal protections they might have?
  • When a consumer uses a mobile payment service, what information is collected, by whom, and for what purpose? Are these data collection practices disclosed to consumers? Is the data protected?
  • How have mobile payment technologies been implemented in other countries, and with what success? What, if any, consumer protection issues have they faced, and how have they dealt with them?
  • What steps should government and industry members take to protect consumers who use mobile payment services?

It should be noted that nowhere does the FTC mention near field communications. That should be rectified by the participants in the workshop, who know how the mobile payments vertical is evolving and where it is going.

The event, which will be held in the District of Columbia on April 26 at the FTC's Satellite Building in Northwest Washington, will bring together consumer advocates, industry representatives, academics, technologists and government regulators. The FTC welcomes comments from the public including original research, surveys and academic papers which can be submitted here.

The FTC had a variety of these types of workshops last year, each surrounding a pertinent and potentially troubling technology. There was a workshop on facial recognition and detection technologies and another on debt collection and phone bill cramming. These are all topics of great significance, so it appears the FTC is taking mobile payments seriously. It should. The changing nature of transactions will be one of the greatest shifts in human behavior over the next decade. When a shift of that magnitude takes place, it needs some guidance to make sure that consumers are educated and their interests taken into account.

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