MasterCard Eyes Facial Scans for Mobile Purchase Security

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2015-07-05 Print this article Print
MasterCard, facial recognition, facial scanning, fingerprint scanning, credit card processing, Alibaba

An experimental project will look at how facial scans taken with mobile devices could be used for online purchase authorizations.


MasterCard is looking at using facial recognition and fingerprints as more secure and simpler ways of authorizing consumer purchases made using mobile devices.

The company, one of the largest credit card processing firms in the world, will launch a pilot program this fall with about 500 customers who will use fingerprints and/or facial scans to confirm their identities with MasterCard, enabling their mobile purchase transactions to be approved without having to manually enter passwords or security codes. The initiative, which was unveiled in a July 1 report by CNNMoney, will ask customers during their mobile check-outs to hold up their smartphone and snap a photo of themselves, the report continued.

"The new generation, which is into selfies ... I think they'll find it cool," Ajay Bhalla, who heads security research for MasterCard, told CNNMoney. "They'll embrace it."

MasterCard is conducting the scan testing because passwords that are used today can be forgotten, stolen or intercepted, which leads to data theft and losses for card issuers and retailers. MasterCard customers today can use the company's "SecureCode" service, which requires a password when shopping online, the report continued. The service, which prevents thieves from stealing a user's credit card information, was used for some 3 billion transactions last year, according to MasterCard.

MasterCard plans to test out the scanning identification system with the 500 customers and expand it publically once it is proven and working well, the story reported. To make that happen, the credit card company is now working with smartphone vendors to get them to build the capabilities into their phones. Users will have to download an app to use the service, according to CNNMoney.

Once enabled, a pop-up will appear that will ask for a user's authorization via a fingerprint or facial scan after they pay for an order, the report continued. If a facial scan is chosen, users will look into the smartphone camera and blink once to activate a scan.

"MasterCard's security researchers decided blinking is the best way to prevent a thief from just holding up a picture of you and fooling the system," the story reported.

The scans are not captured as photographs but instead create a code that remains on the device to identify a user, mapping out their face and converting it to 1s and 0s that can be transmitted over the Internet to MasterCard, according to the report. The company is also experimenting with voice recognition for online transactions as well.

Similar mobile scanning systems are being developed by other companies, too.

In March, Chinese e-commerce merchant Alibaba revealed that it has been developing a mobile purchase security system that uses a selfie taken on a smartphone at the time of a purchase to compare to a stored photo using facial recognition software to positively identify a buyer.

The system, called Smile to Pay, was demonstrated by Jack Ma, founder and CEO of Alibaba Group Holdings, at the CeBIT 2015 conference, according to an earlier eWEEK story. The facial recognition system, which is still in development, is being created to work with Alibaba's own mobile payments system, called Alipay.

The technology is being developed by Ant Financial, a subsidiary of Alibaba that also operates Alipay, which is China's largest online and mobile payments service. Alipay has more than 300 million registered users and handles approximately 80 million transactions every day, according to the company.

Ant Financial is also working a secure mobile user identification system that would require users to give a voice command with a keyword or phrase to be logged in to make a purchase, according to a report by CNBC. The system would even allow users to log in securely using a scanned image of something as unique as a tattoo or a photo of a pet, CNBC reported.

Alibaba is not well-known in the United States yet, but it is growing around the world. In September 2014, the company garnered $21.8 billion on the first day of its stock sales in a then-record IPO on the New York Stock Exchange, according to an earlier eWEEK report. That $21.8 billion first-day IPO result easily eclipsed the previous record, $19.7 billion raked in by Visa International, when it went public in 2008. In comparison, Facebook made $16 billion on its IPO in 2012, and Google's 2004 offering earned a relatively modest $1.7 billion.

Alibaba sells lots of merchandise but more than anything markets mobile devices, cloud services and mobile apps. It wants to sell in high volumes to small and midsize companies in the same way Amazon sells to consumers.

Ma, Alibaba's founder, is a former English teacher who started the company in his Hangzhou, China, apartment in 1999. In China, he is being hailed as a new Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates.



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