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From a commercial point of view, development of the Internet and the World Wide Web is being held back by poor security which makes it difficult to sell and buy things electronically (e-commerce in the jargon). Various techniques have been advanced to solve this problem, some depending on cryptography to foil crackers, others using a trusted third-party to process transactions and validate payments. In particular, businesses are looking for ways to charge for access to Web pages, which may for example hold stock market quotes or give access to interactive games. Charges for each page or item are likely to be minuscule, perhaps a few cents (pence), and the cost of processing such small sums, called microtransactions (or sometimes micropayments) is prohibitive at the moment. Various companies are working on systems which would aggregate payments and so reduce the number of transactions, or charge users through their telephone bills or issue scrip tokens redeemable by the merchant. One slightly cynical provider has commented that the true meaning of microtransaction is “any transaction whose value is currently too small to be worth bothering with” — about one US dollar (60 pence) at the moment.

Page created 12 Apr. 1997

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World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 12 April 1997.