Would you use your face to make payments?

Making purchases using your phone instead of cash or card is now common, but how would you feel about buying things with your face?

Facial recognition technology (FRT) is normally within the purview of governments and security specialists, used to identify and isolate potential threats.

But a new report from the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has identified FRT as an emerging trend in the retail payment space.

The technology is already widely used in other parts of the world, particularly China, where around 61 million consumers regularly use their faces to make payments in stores.

Read: Vulnerabilities leave smartphone users open to payment fraud

Attitudes towards FRT in Australia have usually been lukewarm at best. Most would be wary of giving companies even more detailed information about themselves than they already do.

But Professor Gary Mortimer, lead author of the report, told The New Daily facial recognition and other biometric measures are already being used widely in the community with little issue.

“There is a big learning curve for Australian consumers that it isn’t about surveillance and security,” he says.

“People are already using biometric technologies like a thumb print or facial recognition to facilitate a payment through a phone or smart watch.”

Read: Half of online privacy policies unreadable, CHOICE says

The ARA found that while most survey respondents had heard of FRT, particularly its use in security, most were unaware of its potential as a payment method.

In addition to paying for goods, retailers could also link the facial information to location data on your phone to send you personalised offers as you move through a store.

“There’ll be a device that looks like an iPad that sits on the counter. It simply scans your face and the payment goes through,” Prof. Mortimer says.

“As I enter the store it recognises me and will send me push notifications. For example, I’ll walk through the ladies’ lingerie section but when I get to men’s clothing it might offer me a special deal on two suits.”

Read: Is there any point in holding cash?

There are, understandably, concerns around privacy and exactly who will hold and have access to your facial data.

Late last year, Russian authorities introduced FRT payment methods to Moscow’s underground commuter rail network. Known as FacePay, the authorities expect around 15 per cent of commuters to use the service and hope it will quicken the flow of passengers.

But privacy groups there have raised concerns around the potential for misuse of such information.

“This is a dangerous new step in Russia’s push for control over its population,” says digital rights activist Stanislav Shakirov.

“We need to have full transparency on how this application will work in practice.

“We are moving closer to authoritarian countries like China that have mastered facial technology. The Moscow metro is a government institution and all the data can end up in the hands of the security services,” he adds.

With the technology favoured by authoritarian and anti-democratic societies, do we really want to introduce FRT payments on a mass scale here in Australia?

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Written by Brad Lockyer

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