Wireless e-commerce takes a hit

One step forward, two steps back. That's the way it went with Best Buy's wireless plans. The company rolled out wireless cash registers to some of its retail stores, only to roll them back in amid security fears.

The story goes that Best Buy was told by an anonymous source that they were able to grab credit card information from the wireless system while parked outside the store. Fearing that this could become a widespread problem that jeopardized customer information, the company disabled its wireless transaction system.

Home Depot got the same news about its San Jose store. Shortly thereafter, the home repair giant shuttered its system.

Reports published after these two events suggested that the companies failed to employ the Wireless Equivalent Privacy protocol that protects data across an IEEE 802.11b connection.

A simple answer, no?

Unfortunately, the news of the privacy violations spread faster than the word about the possible easy fix. The good news is maybe other retail outlets will think twice before rolling out their wireless initiatives and test their systems against war driving. The bad news is that the negative press might hinder the rollout of more wireless systems.

See, in this day and age, anything that reeks of a violation of customer data privacy is avoided like the plague. And companies that don't want their integrity even questioned will steer clear of rolling out these systems.

Yet, I go back to a point I made early on in doing this column: it's all trial and error for the next few years. Anyone who pioneers in this area is going to take some serious and very public lumps. They are the sacrificial lambs for us to get better at e-commerce. Until you put it out there, you just don't know the ramifications. You can't.

So, as you read about these blemishes that occur on the face of e-commerce, do not get scared away. Instead look at it rationally and think what you can do when you roll out your e-commerce initiative to avoid a similar situation.

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