Dan Gillmor: Cash cards rule in Hong Kong

San Jose Mercury News columnist Dan Gillmor reports from Hong Kong on the Octopus card.

Octopus is easily the world’s most successful experiment to date in stored-value, electronic cash cards. Instead of pulling out bills and coins in subways, buses, fast-food restaurants and convenience stores, customers wave purses and wallets past devices that deduct dollars from their cards inside.

These are not debit cards, the widely used system in the United States. With debit cards, money gets deducted from bank accounts during transactions.

Octopus cards are the real thing when it comes to cash cards. They are equivalent to cash. You put value into them, spend it down and then replenish the money if you want to keep using it.

They’re like cash in another crucial way. If the user prefers, they are entirely anonymous — that is, not linked to any bank account or other personal information.

An earlier report in ComputerWeekly mentions both Octopus and Sony’s EDY e-purse as likely to succeed in their respective markets. Operating in Japan through a separate company named BitWallet, Sony’s EDY electronic money system is being adopted by Japanese finance companies.

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