Paying With Your Face: Part Two

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25.04.2019, by Imke van der Sanden

Facial recognition is not a new idea, in fact it has been around for many years. Facial recognition is a form of artificial intelligence (AI) that helps in identifying a person by using their digital image, or patterns of their facial features. Due to its inaccuracy and low quality technology at the time, Face ID was not to be used or trusted in important matters, such as banking and surveillance. But with the latest technological developments in artificial intelligence, those barriers seem to have been broken, which makes it very likely that the time in which we paid with cash, credit and debit cards will soon be behind us.

In China they have been experimenting with the phenomenon of facial recognition for many years. It figures that the technology takes off in China first, because of the country’s attitude toward surveillance and privacy. Unlike other countries, China already has a large centralized database of ID card photos. The Chinese government has been using facial recognition in the country’s surveillance camera network to identify criminal suspects, and the Chinese police have even been able to make arrests thanks to the use of facial scanners at a festival.

The technology of Face ID

But what kind of technology is hiding behind this concept? One of the leading systems in regards to facial recognition is the Chinese facial recognition system Face++. Face++ allows you to make payments through facial recognition. It recognizes faces with impeccable accuracy, allowing a person to make secure and reliable payments. Face++ identifies five key points of facial recognition technology: face detection, face landmarks, face attributes, face comparing and face searching. On the iPhone X, and later models, the TrueDepth camera captures accurate face data by projecting and analyzing 30,000 invisible dots to create a depth map of your face. The data of your facial scan is stored and protected in what is called a Bionic chip. When unlocking your iPhone or wanting to make a purchase with Face ID, a portion of the neural engine of the A11, A12 or A12X Bionic Chip, makes a mathematical model of your face and checks it against the original scan that was pre-registered. But what if you color your hair or start wearing glasses? Face ID is much smarter than that, it adapts to your facial changes over time, meaning that even if you start wearing glasses, drastically change your hair, or gain/lose weight, it will still recognize you. Face ID is available on iPhone X and later and iPad Pro models with the A11, A12 or A12X Bionic chip.

The security of Face ID

The probability of a random person being able to unlock your phone or make a purchase through your Face ID are approximately one in one million (compared to one in 50,000 with Touch ID). This makes Face ID a lot more secure in comparison to other safety measures, like a pin or Touch ID. To prevent other people from using your device or Face ID, the 3D scanners need users to meet certain requirements: your eyes need to be open, so another person is not able to make a payment with your Face ID while you are asleep; Face ID needs a live user, just a photograph of the face you are trying to scan will not pass the security system of the TrueDepth camera; and another important feature is that the user needs to be present, and needs to be looking at the device or screen in order for the Face ID payment to work. All of these features were built in so malfunctions and fraud with Face ID technology will be made as limited as possible. 

Face ID in The United States and Europe

Although facial recognition seems to have gained a lot of popularity in China, it is likely to face more difficulties in the West, where people have a different attitude towards surveillance and privacy. Privacy concerns in the United States and the EU could make it more difficult for a similar technology to come to the Western world on a broad scale. The New York Times recently did an experiment with facial recognition-powered tracking system in Bryant Park, New York City. They bought a facial recognition system of Amazon for $100, built a completely legal database using public photos of people who work in the area and matched and tracked a college professor on his way to lunch. This was done in order to show the general public how easy it is to track someone through facial recognition without their knowledge. Whether Face ID payments are a breach of privacy, it does not take away from the fact that companies in the United States and the EU will need to step up their game in order to provide a more seamless and secure transaction for their consumers. 

Want to know more about companies that are already experimenting with Face ID payment? Read Part One of this story here.

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