There has been a marked increase throughout the world in non-cash payment and credit purchases using plastic cards. In their simplest form, the embossed data can be transferred to paper.
This technique is used with credit cards, which are also becoming increasingly popular in Austria. With the spread of electronic charging systems, these cards are also being provided with a magnetic strip for electronic data processing. Most consumer cards today feature a combination of embossed card and magnetic strip. Far greater potential is offered by new types of cards currently being developed, such as "smart cards" with integrated microchip, or optical "laser cards".
Because of the inadequate legislative control of this entire area, the term "consumer card" must first be defined. In order to assess the possible uses and anticipated impact of these technologies a description of the technological alternatives and complementary technologies which could make card systems more efficient (types of card, reading and writing appliances) is required.
"Consumer cards" include all cards used for identification of consumers and for non-cash payment of goods and services. As an important tool for consumer payment transactions, they are also part and parcel of the international trend towards electronic processing. An analysis of the significance for Austria of the basic categories - charge, credit and customer cards - brought to light various effects on consumers. With charging transactions being processed electronically to an increasing extent, and particularly with their integration in goods management systems, the potential for consumer observation takes on a completely new meaning, which in turn could pose certain problems in terms of data protection. Credit and customer credit cards are not used in Austria as much as in some other countries and for this reason no evidence can be found that they significantly influence the running up of debts. As consumers (and their representatives) are not involved in the system design, it is likely that an imbalance will remain in future as to the way the interests of suppliers and users are represented.
In the study summary, the possibilities for action were described and a catalogue of measures for political decision-makers drawn up.
The results of this project have been published in a book.