Woolworths payment glitch sparks conversation on our reliance of technology

Dan Winson teaches IT at Wagga TAFE and said he can imagine a cash-free world.
Dan Winson teaches IT at Wagga TAFE and said he can imagine a cash-free world.

Glitches in computing automation software have sparked warnings about humanity’s reliance on technology.

It comes after a payment system used by Woolworths double-charged some customers, with transactions from March appearing on recent bank statements.

The glitch originated from one of the supermarket’s payment operators, Cuscal, who said an “error at a data centre” caused the malfunction.

The error highlights the issue of how streamlined the worlds of technology and reality are, according to Wagga TAFE IT teacher, Dan Winson.

”It seems unlikely that we’re ever going to go back to a world where people use hard cash for their transactions,” he said.

“Of course retailers still accept cash, but in my mind, it’s hard to imagine a world in 10 or 20 years where cash will still exist.”

The payment error doesn’t come as a surprise to Wagga local, Christine Hedditch, who has had a similar experience at Woolworths in the past.

“Everything scanned (at the checkout) and I was in the process of paying,” she said.

“As (the payment) went through, the system supposedly dropped out and I was assured it would have reversed.

“It was all re-scanned and I paid again. I immediately checked at the bank and it had been double paid.”

It was late at night, Ms Hedditch said, when she called the bank and they assured her she would get her money back.

“I had to initiate the entire process through the bank and it took weeks,” she said.

It is important to remember that there is “virtually no such thing” as software that can be made mistake-free.

Given these sorts of concerns are becoming more prevalent in today’s society, what we’re dealing with, Mr Winson said, is a “quality issue around the automation of something”.

“We’re using software to do something that maybe 50 years ago, might’ve been done by a person,” he said.

“What we need to consider is that people make lots of mistakes, too, but when technology does, it’s potentially more visible because it happens to more people in a very short period of time.

“Technologists do their best to future-proof anything they’re building and even within that, they’ve got to work within their restraints.”

There will always be some sort of “trade off” between security and usability, but Mr Winson said it is about ensuring the quality of transactions and making sure another similar error doesn’t occur.

“The Woolworths payment system, for example, could’ve been configured so every single person had to go to the bank and personally authorise each transaction,” Mr Winson said.

“But there’s no benefit to that.

“It’s not worth the hassle of having to go into the bank and say yes, I was at Woolworths, I’ll sign here and confirm that.

“We have to accept some level of risk like this when using related technology.”


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