Are the days when you absolutely had to take a card out of your wallet, lug around cash or use your smartphone to pay in a store coming to an end? The Mastercard credit card issuer seems to believe so. The company is now relying on biometric technology, which uses a person’s unique physical characteristics — such as their fingerprints or the shape of their face — to identify them. Its Biometric Checkout Program, unveiled at the end of May 2022, will therefore allow, if the first tests go well, to pay by showing your face to a camera.
To be able to do this, you must first register using a mobile application, specifying which businesses you plan to pay in this way, then taking a photo of your face.
“The photo is then destroyed, it is only the encrypted biometric data that is recorded by a company specializing in biometrics,” explains Matt Prodger, global vice president, product development at Mastercard. Phones with a biometric feature, like Apple’s Face ID, follow this same principle; in this case, however, the mathematical representation of the face is stored on a chip in the device, not in a data center.
Once at the store, the user of the Mastercard system must smile at a camera (which could be integrated into a self-service checkout, for example). The photo taken is then converted into biometric data, which is compared with the identities stored in the cloud in order to link the customer to their credit card number.
During a demonstration at Mastercard’s new technology center in Vancouver, where News was invited, the operation seemed as simple and quick as one can imagine.
Note that biometrics is already well established in the payment industry. Both Mastercard and Visa, for example, offer banks the option of issuing cards with fingerprint readers. The payment with only his face, for the moment, is unique in its kind.
Confirming Identity in the Internet Age
The use of biometrics represents in a way a return to another era, when a merchant recognized his customers by seeing them walk through the door. He didn’t need proof of identity or password to charge a purchase to their account.
“It’s a bit like the fundamental problem we’re trying to solve: how to trust someone when you don’t know them and, in the case of an Internet transaction, when you can’t even see them “, explains Matt Prodger.
Usually, payment companies like Mastercard, but also banks, analyze hundreds of pieces of information at the time of a transaction to assess its level of security.
“Mastercard has a list of over 7 billion identity-related parameters, such as email addresses. If a thief creates an address to carry out a fraudulent transaction, the system will notify us that it seems new and that there is a risk”, illustrates Nima Sepasy, vice-president, innovation and product development at Mastercard.
The company uses artificial intelligence to assess the risk associated with the transaction using several criteria. Thus, a business or a transactional site will be considered safer if the person has already made a purchase there. Same principle for the device used in the case of an online purchase, which will be considered more secure if the person has already used it to make a transaction with the same credit card account.
Other factors are taken into account, in person and online, such as the number of transactions in the last hours and the speed at which a form is filled out (if it’s too fast, it indicates that automated software is at the work; if it is too slow, it indicates that the personal information may not be known by heart). After an analysis of some 50 milliseconds, a score out of 1000 is sent to the bank, which decides whether or not to accept the transaction.
Biometrics helps identify the person, but it also adds an extra layer of assurance as to the legitimacy of the transaction.
Several outstanding questions
This facial recognition payment program is being tested in Brazil only for the moment, and several questions remain.
For example, we do not know how effective the system will be. Even the best smart phone doesn’t recognize its owner sometimes. What beacons will be installed to prevent the system from making mistakes between two people who look alike?
As researcher Rita Matulionyte from Macquarie University School of Law in Australia points out, the majority of facial recognition algorithms are less accurate with people from racial and ethnic minorities. “Technology has improved over the past few years, but it’s not flawless,” she notes in an analysis of Mastercard’s system. published on online media The Conversation.
It also remains to be seen whether the public is ready to adopt this means of payment. According to Mastercard, 74% of consumers would be interested in such technology. But in a survey released last month by Capterra, a division of US research firm Gartner, only 25% of Quebecers said they were comfortable with the idea of sharing their biometric data with private companies.
Fortunately, the program was presented as optional. When it does arrive in the country one day (no launch date has been confirmed), it will therefore be up to everyone to decide whether or not they prefer to pay with their face.
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