W3C makes progress on web payment standards

Due to a recent update on a long-delayed upgrade to the underlying code of the internet, the world wide web is on the verge of adding a native payments system. The new specifications detail a suite of tools that allow merchants to accept many payment types, including Bitcoin, much more easily.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has been working on a currency-agnostic web payment standard for more than two years. The 470-plus member organization is responsible for creating and maintaining the international standards for the world wide web and constantly works with the public and corporations to develop guidelines for its use.

With a team led by the inventor of the web itself, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the W3C has set themselves a mission “to lead the Web to its full potential,” and routing internet payments was high on their list of tasks to accomplish.

W3C launched the Web Payments Working Group in 2015, for the sole purpose of making payments easier and more secure on the Web, and it’s due to be dissolved in December.

The Recommendations from the Working Group will increase some areas of interoperability between payer and payee systems, producing benefits such as:

  • A better checkout experience for users, particularly on mobile devices. The standards should facilitate automation, one approach to improving the user experience.

  • Streamlined payment flow, which is expected to reduce the percentage of transactions abandoned prior to completion ("shopping cart abandonment").

  • Easier adoption of payment instrument improvements (e.g., related to security) or new payment instruments.

  • Added value through machine-readable digital payment requests and payment responses.

Progress from the Working Group appeared to have stalled, until recently. The head of the W3C’s payments activity, Ian Jacobs, outlined the Group's achievements in a post last week, stating that Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple and Mozilla have all contributed to the mission, which has made some landmark achievements.

- Ian Jacobs, W3C

The Working Group has subsequently advanced both Payment Request API and Payment Method identifiers to “Candidate Recommendation Status.” This step in the W3C Recommendation Track means that the specification is stable, and the Group will now focus on browser interoperability, primarily by developing a comprehensive test suite.

The Request Payment API is a specification that standardizes how merchants can utilize one or more payment methods with minimal integration, allowing browsers to act as an intermediary between three parties in a transaction:

  • the payee: the merchant that runs an online store, or other party that requests to be paid.

  • the payer: the party that makes a purchase at that online store, and who authenticates and authorizes payment as required.

  • the payment method provider: the party that provides the means (e.g., credit card) that the payer uses to pay, and that is accepted by the payee.

The Payment Method Identifiers define payment method identifiers and how they are validated, and, where applicable, minted and formally registered with the W3C. Other specifications, such as the Payment Request API, make use of these identifiers to facilitate monetary transactions on the web platform.

- W3C

Once included in the final release, the payment standards will become part of the underlying protocol of the internet itself. Instead of a shopping process that uses 3rd-party e-commerce tools and off-site code to provide payments and delivery, webmasters will be able to simply add drop-down menus and delivery options for themselves after the upgrade, which leads to a cleaner, far more secure online shopping experience.

Meanwhile, buyers will have new options in their browser settings to place information like their shipping address and payment preferences so that those parts of the check-out process will be more automated, based on user preference.

For instance, a shopper can set up their payment preferences in their browser, use a Visa credit card or a bitcoin wallet for instance. When they see an item online that they would like to pay for, the browser remembers their preference, and attempts to pay after a single confirmation question. To the user, this could look like a single pop-up that says “are you sure you want to pay for this using your bitcoin wallet with a balance of 0.124?”

This new checkout process is said to be highly secure and it should reduce the entire checkout process to just a few quick clicks, no matter your currency or payment method of choice. There is still no set date for the final W3C standards release.