Wal-Mart Signs with Visa for Password Protection

As e-commerce and security companies continue to search for the answer to consumers’ privacy concerns, Visa has announced that the Web arm of retail giant Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) has signed up to use Visa’s password-protection program.

Walmart.com, which had a rocky Internet debut with several relaunches before finally gaining a foothold in late 2001, joins a roster of existing Verified by Visa clients, including Priceline.com, Buy.com, Target.com, Orbitz, Tickets.com and CDnow.com.

Unveiled by Visa late last year, the verification program lets customers choose a password they can use to confirm their identify before processing a Web site order.

While the program has won over many merchants, with about 40 major e-tailers and several brick-and-mortar chains’ Internet divisions on board, Visa did not specify how many customers are using its password system.

Willing To Wait

Although additional passwords have not been beloved by consumers in the past, analysts say consumers are willing to go the extra mile to protect their personal financial information online.

A recent study released by Jupiter Media Metrix (Nasdaq: JMXI) found that 80 percent of consumers are willing to undergo more authentication steps as they shop. In addition, half of all shoppers are willing to reveal more personal data in the process.

“By and large, people are definitely willing to go through more steps at checkout if it means their information is being protected,” Forrester Research analyst Christopher Kelley told the E-Commerce Times. “In the end, that’s a tradeoff they’re willing to make if given the opportunity.”

Coming Attractions

Meanwhile, technology companies are scrambling to provide a new generation of products that deal with the online identification problem.

While portable systems that allow a single password to be used across the Web — such as Microsoft’s Passport, Yahoo’s wallet system and a similar system within the AOL network — are gaining momentum, privacy advocates worry that they will become favorite targets of hackers because they concentrate so much information in one place.

And more novel solutions — for example, a Microsoft project reportedly under way to develop image passwords that would replace hard-to-recall strings of letters and numbers — continue to be developed, though analysts remain skeptical about their long-term viability.

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