but first, a selfie!

Facial Recognition Authentication in Payments

Selfies have now become a staple of our online experience. Most people take them for fun, some - like influencers - take them for profit. And, as with many other applications of technology, selfies have now also become a security measure.

Step by Step

Mobile device security started with PINs, and that has erved well for decades, but our security options are now expanded with biometrics. First, there was the fingerprint scanner that allowed you to lock and unlock your smartphone with literally just a press of your finger. Then, it was just a short step to face authentication that is accessing your mobile device with a selfie.

From there, your fingerprints and face become another means of payment authentication, just as PINs and passwords are used to also confirm your identity for an online transaction.

Among payment service providers incorporating face authentication in 2020 there are two of special note: Alipay and Mastercard

This marks Mastercard's fourth year of using this technology, as the card giant introduced "selfie pay" for its consumers in the US, Canada, and Europe back in 2016.

Alipay took a similar step in 2017, calling its face authentication "smile to pay" and has been reporting great popularity of this program among its 800+ million users in China.

Faces Rising

Juniper Research's report, under the title of "Mobile Payment Authentication: Biometrics, Regulation & Forecasts 2019 - 2024" placed facial recognition hardware at the top of a short-list of fastest growing smartphone biometric hardware. The report also disclosed some impressive numbers and forecasts, with the number of smartphones employing facial recognition hardware reaching almost a hundred million per year and expected to reach 800 million in 2024.

On the software front, the report makes a prediction for 1.3 billion devices employing facial recognition software by 2024. This impressive number is expected to be reached thanks first and foremost to both currently employed and in-development artificially intelligent systems that are already making software-based facial recognition a strong enough type of a security measure to be used in mobile payments authentication.

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Always Face the Concerns

As with any other security feature, facial recognition has also caused concerns not only regarding data privacy but the promotion of mass surveillance. Certainly, opportunities for abuse will present themselves but systems had been put in place to ensure safety and security for all previous newly developed technologies and it is something that will continue to happen in future as well.

Still, issues have already occurred; just as a password can be stolen, so can your face. This happened recently and it involved Facebook, ending with a settlement to the tune of $550 million. The social media giant was accused of stealing and using subscriber biometric data - in this instance in the form of face geometries, available to them from various uploaded photos, including selfies.

Certainly, a big profile case such as Facebook's serves as both a cautionary tale, as well as a call to action to lawmakers, biometric technology developers, companies employing said technology, but also customers themselves - privacy is still paramount and it is what can make or break a company or a new development.

But it's also important to make note of face recognition technology's benefits. Face authentication can easily be applied along with other SCA elements, adding another layer of security.

In essence, if already existing measures are locks and alarms, adding face authentication is like, for example, adding motion sensors to your house's security solution.

Not all Payments are Equal

Adoption rates are dependent on myriad factors, but when it comes to payment services, biometric authentication faces differing challenges within the broader area of payments themselves.

A recent survey of UK's mobile payments users, conducted by Mindshare for, discovered that while around half of the 5000 consumers surveyed would gladly use facial recognition to unlock their smartphone, the numbers drop significantly once biometrics are mentioned in the context of online activities, with only 32% responding positively to the idea of paying for goods or services using facial recognition.

A further survey on 544 consumers revealed they would be most interested in paying in such a way for household products, groceries, food, beauty products and toiletries (60%) and least interested in paying for holiday and travel (30%).

China Does It Their Way

Alipay has installed facial recognition payment systems at retail locations all across the nation and while they have been widely accepted by the public, a survey of over 40 000 customers discovered that over 60% consider the images of their faces taken by these devices to be "ugly". This isn't something that Alipay took lightly. With China being the world's third largest consumer of plastic surgery and the Chinese being avid users of the various beauty filters provided by photo and video apps, the survey carried weight: so much so that Alipay announced it would adopt beautifying filters for its facial recognition payment systems.


Source: Meitu

While it may sound frivolous and playing to vanity, this development can also be taken as improving on customer experience, which has always been a crucial factor for payments services.

Selfie Time at Nets Group

Developments in facial recognition authentication are happening in Europe as well. Nets, a leading provider of digital payments in Europe and our partners have launched a pilot program in Denmark, testing facial recognition as payment on 1000 Danish office workers.

Under the tagline "Hungry? Face it", the pilot is taking place at Vibenshuset, an office community comprising 25 Copenhagen-based companies, and involves linking employee's faces with their ID cards and paying for lunch in the onsite café using facial recognition.

Nets' system would require any merchant to invest in just a webcam and install an app and then be ready to go. Nets creation lab head Jesper Kildegaard Poulsen also commented on facial recognition's adoption, stating: “How people feel about having their faces scanned is still under question. This trial will help us to learn more about consumer attitudes to facial recognition payments.”