Paying With Your Face: Part One

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25.04.2019, by Imke van der Sanden


Forgetting your wallet is a struggle many of us can relate to, but what if, in the very near future, this would never be an issue again? What if in a few years, or maybe even a few months from now, you could in fact leave your wallet at home forever and pay with nothing more than your face.

Apple Face ID

With the launch of the iPhone X, facial recognition has been made available and introduced to a larger audience. We are now not only able to unlock our phones by just looking at them, but with the introduction of Face ID, Apple allows its users to authenticate purchases with Apple Pay and in the iTunes, App and Apple Book Store. Want to purchase something on your iPhone, but did you forget your iCloud password? No worries! Apple’s Face ID allows you to pay with you face. The only requirement is to previously have set up Face ID and a payment method. Apple’s Face ID is very easy to use, when making a purchase from the iTunes, App or Book store, the user only needs to press the side button twice and glance at their phone to confirm the purchase. Apple even takes paying with Face ID a step further with Apple Pay, a concept in which iPhone users can make a purchase in a physical store and pay with Face ID by double-clicking the side button and glancing at the screen. After the Face ID of the user is recognized, the user places the top of their iPhone to the contactless reader, which selects the default card to pay. A quick video explaining the whole process of Apple Pay can be found here. Apple Pay is not yet available in The Netherlands.

Smile to Pay

Whereas the Face ID technology of Apple Pay still needs a smartphone to operate, in China they have taken paying with Face ID a step further by experimenting with facial recognition payments without the additional need to bring a smartphone. In 2017 KFC introduced the ‘smile-to-pay’ campaign in which customers were able to pay for their food with a smile. Following the huge success of the ‘smile-to-pay’ campaign, a local subway operator in Shenzhen, China’s tech capital, started testing a new ticketing system that allows passengers to pay their fare and board the subway through a facial recognition scan. The system, which is built with 5G and AI technology from Huawei, requires passengers to pre-register their facial data and authorize a payment method in order to participate in the project. Instead of tapping their regular subway pass or scan a QR code on their smartphone, passengers now scan their face on a screen next to the entrance gate. Once the facial recognition scan is complete, the system will automatically withdraw the appropriate fare from the passenger’s linked account, and allow them to board the subway. The advantage to this is that passengers never have to worry about forgetting their subway card or a low balance ever again, but at the same time it means that every movement in the subway will likely be tracked. It is unclear if the tracking through this new system will be more extensive than the current surveillance system in China. Chinese cities are known for having extensive surveillance cameras that log citizens’ faces, gender, age and how long they stay in a particular area. 

Face ID in The Netherlands

Compo Software and 20Face are bringing the concept of paying with your face a lot closer to home. They are carrying out a pilot in the Netherlands for the Change The Game Challenge, where they are testing facial recognition technology at Heracles soccer stadium, for access-control and hospitality. During the pilot spectators of the VIP area that previously registered their face could enter the stadium with a simple scan of their face, they could also order drinks and snacks through an app and pay with Face ID. After ordering their food and beverages through the app, the spectators could pick up their order at a collectors point, instead of physically having to queue for and needing to purchase their items with previously bought tokens. Currently, the system is still in its testing phase, but Compo Software has already been approached by different companies expressing interest in their software, like for example a television company that wants to use the facial recognition technology to prevent children from watching television content that is not meant for them.

Will facial recognition completely replace cash, mobile payments, debit and credit cards in the future? We are not sure, but we are definitely positive that the option of paying with Face ID will expand rapidly over the next few years.

Want to know more about the technology behind the concept of paying with Face ID? Read Part Two of this story here.

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