MasterCard to Launch Selfie, Fingerprint ID in U.S. This Summer

The biometric security methods for online transactions have been in trials by MasterCard since last July and are being expanded around the world.

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MasterCard is planning to launch fingerprint and selfie biometric identification options for customers in the United States and in other parts of the world this summer as it finds that users are comfortable and confident with the technology.

The expansion of the program, which began last July as a trial project to see how consumers would respond to the use of selfies and fingerprints to replace passwords for their online purchases, was announced by the company on Feb. 22 in Amsterdam, where a larger testing project involving some 750 users over six months was also conducted.

In Holland, nine out of 10 participants told the company that they would want to replace their password with biometric identification, and almost 75 percent of the users said they believe that biometric payments will decrease fraud, according to MasterCard.

"The Dutch consumer is very progressive in embracing new technologies," Arjan Bol, the country manager of MasterCard Netherlands, said in a statement. "Our country is the international leader in easy, safe and efficient payments. We are now examining the possibilities to integrate our technology in the banking and tech giants' apps to make payment using a selfie or fingerprint even easier."

With the success of the Dutch tests, MasterCard said it will be launching selfie and fingerprint biometric identification technologies for online purchases in the United States, Canada and parts of Europe in the summer of 2016.

"Biometrics, unlike passwords, ensures convenience," André IJbema, the manager of risk management at MasterCard partner International Card Services (ICS), said in a statement. "People forget passwords, making the payment process unnecessarily long and complex, so we expect that passwords will slowly become obsolete in favor of a more user-friendly alternative, such as biometrical identification."

MasterCard and other credit card companies have also been working with other more secure payment methods, including contactless cards, smartphones and smartwatches in stores and online around the world.

Using a selfie or fingerprint, consumers are identified as part of a digital protocol that uses unique individual characteristics, like a fingerprint or face selfie, according to MasterCard. Using the system, a consumer gets a pop-up message on their smartphone when paying online, and they can then authorize the transaction using their fingerprint or facial recognition image.

A Feb. 22 report by the BBC said that MasterCard plans to expand the selfie and fingerprint ID program not only to the United States and Canada, but also to the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.

In July 2015, the company announced the launch of its first pilot project to test out the selfie and fingerprint identification methods with consumers, according to an earlier eWEEK story. MasterCard began with a pilot program involving about 500 customers who used 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.

MasterCard conducted the scan testing because traditional passwords can be forgotten, stolen or intercepted, which leads to data theft and losses for card issuers and retailers. 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 earlier story.

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 compares a selfie taken on a smartphone at the time of a purchase 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.