NFC (Near Field Communication)

Author: Denis Zhenilov


NFC (Near Field Communication) is a set of technological standards for the smartphones and similar devices that allows them to communicate wirelessly and exchange data if they are brought into proximity or touched via high-frequency radiowaves.


NFC works similarly to the RFID technology and smart cards, and is defined as an "extension" of the existing RFID standard, which combines the RFID tag and the RFID reader into one device, allowing active exchange of information between the NFC devices. NFC is limited in range and works at a distance of approximately 10 centimeters, somewhat similar to Bluetooth wireless technology, albeit the latter allows communicating at about 100 meters.

Explanation and application

NFC can be used in a way similar to Bluetooth, to exchange files between the devices. In the context of the scenario though, it can be used with the NFC readers that allow customers to literally pay with their phones, phones acting as their credit cards. It's a somewhat rare, but established feature in some supermarkets in the world: after the customer logs into the respective banking application, they can use NFC to authorize payment if the phone is brought up to the NFC reader. Alternatively, there is, for example, a Google Wallet app which allows to "tap and pay" at authorized retailer's machine.

Links to Social and Ethical Issues

Social & Ethical Issue
Examples that specifically link to the concept and/or definition in the Case Study
1.1 Reliability and integrity

1.2 Security
No pairing code is needed, NFC interfaces (transfers data) automatically upon contact of the devices' reception field. What if the NFC readers are altered and malicious software is loaded onto users' devices? Or what if you can simply steal someone's credit card data, passing by them with a reader in your pocket? Similar to RFID concerns.
Eavesdropping ("listening" to the NFC transmission and intercepting the data) is also possible.
1.3 Privacy and anonymity
NFC payments are likely to be stored in the database similarly to payments with a credit card and cash payments. If they can be linked back to the customer with the use of the loyalty card scheme, this results in a privacy concern, as all the purchases of the customer are logged and can be accessed. Officially it should only be used to cater to the customer and market goods, however, would you like supermarket knowing everything about you and being able to make out the way you live, what you like and what you don't like?
1.4 Intellectual property

1.5 Authenticity
Is the person with the phone, authorizing a purchase, really who he/she claims to be? The phone could care less who holds it, and with automatic authorisation commonly used nowadays, stealing a phone could be enough for a thief to make a purchase.
1.6 The digital divide and equality of access

1.7 Surveillance

1.8 Globalization and cultural diversity

1.9 Policies

1.10 Standards and protocols

1.11 People and machines

1.12 Digital citizenship

References and resources

Article with extensive detail about NFC
NFC in a nutshell.
Google Wallet payment instruction
NFC security and privacy concerns