A customer pays for their tube journey using an Apple Watch. Photo: Getty.
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Apple Pay is here – if you have the right device

In certain shops, with certain banks, you can now pay amounts up to £20 using certain Apple devices. 

Trailing, as ever, behind our transatlantic friends, today the UK finally got its hands on Apple Pay. On the surface, it sounds great: you can now pay contactlessly for amounts up to £20 using a phone or, for the lucky few, an Apple Watch. But there’s a catch – or rather, a series of them.

First, you have to be with the right bank. As of the launch today, Natwest, American Express, Nationwide, MBNA, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Santander are all participating. Barclays, meanwhile, has only just agreed to be involved in future, while HSBC has delayed for two weeks. That still leaves First Direct, Halifax, Lloyds and TSB. 

Then, you need the right device. Only the very newest Apple stock  - ie the iPhones 6 and 6 Plus and Apple Watches – can be used for contactless payments. For online payments, you can also use the latest iPad Airs and iPad Minis. (As James Allgrove points out at Tech City News, the online payments aspect of the technology could actually be the most revolutionary: we already have contactless cards in the UK, but online payment forms are still long, laborious, and often can’t be filled out on phones.)

If you’re with the right provider, and have the right phone or watch, and manage to set up the payment system (in-depth instructions here) you then need to go to the right shop. Around 250,000 locations are currently signed up, including M&S, Boots, Waitrose, Costa coffee, and TfL’s public transport network.

In a way, the limited nature of this payment system so far is no bad thing. The gradual move towards a cashless society – and perhaps, eventually, even a cardless one – will make things much more convenient for the lion’s share of us. But as of 2008/9, around 3 per cent of households did not have a bank account, and this proportion rises significantly when you look at the poorest section of society. Other customers feel uncomfortable using payment systems which can easily be tracked. New "fintech" developments like Apple Pay could incentivise businesses to phase out riskier payment options (cash, cheques), and restrict their businesses to those with a bank account and/or an iPhone.

So in summary: for most of us, today’s launch won’t significantly change how we pay. But for the lucky few of you buying lunch today at M&S with your iPhone 6 and American Express card, enjoy. The future is yours. 

Barbara Speed is comment editor at the i, and was technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman, and a staff writer at CityMetric.

Photo: Getty
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It's not WhatsApp that was at fault in the Westminster attacks. It's our prisons

Britain's criminal justice system neither deterred nor rehabilitated Khalid Masood, and may even have facilitated his radicalisation. 

The dust has settled, the evidence has been collected and the government has decided who is to blame for the attack on Westminster. That’s right, its WhatsApp and their end-to-end encryption of messages. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, wants tech companies to install a backdoor into messages like these that the government can then access.

There are a couple of problems here, not least that Adrian Russell aka Khalid Masood was known to the security services but considered to be low-risk. Even if the government had had the ability to gain entry to his WhatsApp, they wouldn’t have used it. Then there’s the fact that end-to-end encryption doesn’t just protect criminals and terrorists – it protects users from criminals and terrorists. Any backdoor will be vulnerable to attack, not only from our own government and foreign powers, but by non-state actors including fraudsters, and other terrorists.

(I’m parking, also, the question of whether these are powers that should be handed to any government in perpetuity, particularly one in a country like Britain’s, where near-unchecked power is handed to the executive as long as it has a parliamentary majority.)

But the biggest problem is that there is an obvious area where government policy failed in the case of Masood: Britain’s prisons system.

Masood acted alone though it’s not yet clear if he was merely inspired by international jihadism – that is, he read news reports, watched their videos on social media and came up with the plan himself – or he was “enabled” – that is, he sought out and received help on how to plan his attack from the self-styled Islamic State.

But what we know for certain is that he was, as is a recurring feature of the “radicalisation journey”, in possession of a string of minor convictions from 1982 to 2002 and that he served jail time. As the point of having prisons is surely to deter both would-be offenders and rehabilitate its current occupants so they don’t offend again, Masood’s act of terror is an open-and-shut case of failure in the prison system. Not only he did prison fail to prevent him committing further crimes, he went on to commit one very major crime.  That he appears to have been radicalised in prison only compounds the failure.

The sad thing is that not so very long ago a Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice was thinking seriously about prison and re-offending. While there was room to critique some of Michael Gove’s solutions to that problem, they were all a hell of a lot better than “let’s ban WhatsApp”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.