Face value: the new tap and go

- By Collaborative Media & Publishing
Helen of Troy’s face was said to have launched a thousand ships. Fast-forward centuries later and new payment technology can put a far more precise value on a face.

Facial recognition technology is being used by banks, retailers and governments to make paying for everyday goods and services even easier. Banking apps and digital wallets are already taking advantage of the functionality, which is baked into the Apple iPhone and is being rolled out on Android phones.

It dispenses with the need to use cash or cards to pay for goods and services, although the technology also raises issues around privacy and security.

China leads the way

China is leading the world in facial recognition technology, with consumers using local payment apps Alipay and WeChat Pay to purchase goods and services across retail and hospitality.

NoahPay Director and Co-founder Ryan Yan says WeChat Pay and Alipay have launched payment terminals in shops that allow for payments with facial recognition. NoahPay has deep knowledge of the region as the official licenced partner of WeChat's parent company, Tencent Holdings.

“You would only need to bring your face into a shop that has a terminal, which looks like an upgraded self-serve kiosk at Macca’s. This sort of technology is also being used outside of the payment system as well for consumer behaviour predictions,” said Yan.

NoahPay’s Billax app enables Chinese residents living in Australia to seamlessly pay their Australian bills, including through Apple’s Face ID.

Yan says while facial recognition technology could be used to tell merchants about your favourite drinks when you enter a shopping mall, it could also be utilised for surveillance purposes.

“The trade-off between privacy or convenience has become a decision consumers have to make regularly. However, people in Australia might have variants in terms of how serious people see privacy and what is acceptable relative to the rest of the world,” Yan said.

Nonetheless, Australia has strong privacy safeguards.

“We have a robust legal system to govern what is needed to ensure the infrastructure that we’re building is safe at a national level and also to protect individual rights. I think Australia is the best place to find an actual balance between individual rights as well as the technological advancement that we’re looking for as consumers,” added Yan.

ATMs: a future without cards?

Automatic teller machines (ATMs) were first rolled out in Australia in the 1980s. Yet the way customers withdraw money, using a card and a PIN, has remained mostly unchanged over the years.

NAB worked with Microsoft on a proof of concept ATM enabled with facial recognition technology to provide an extra layer of security in 2018.

“You can use your face to enable the service and still key in a PIN to make sure that you have that second [authentication] factor,” NAB EGM Infrastructure, Cloud and Workplace, Steve Day, said at the time.

That extra security layer could provide extra security to help prevent stolen cards and card skimming.

It used a library from Microsoft Azure that maps a face and stores it in the cloud. It could detect a person looking over your shoulder and stop you from entering your PIN.   

While showing promise, the technology has not yet been rolled out further in Australia.

‘Tap on’ to public transport with a smile

Transport systems around the world are also starting to employ facial recognition to make payments a more seamless experience.

China’s Subway and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems, for example, now support payment by face scanning in Guiyang. The major Shenzhen Metro also allows commuters to scan their face on a tablet-sized screen to pay automatically from their pre-registered “Smile-to-Pay” account on WeChat.

In Australia, a similar system was also floated by former NSW Transport Minister, Andrew Constance, who predicted that Opal cards might one day be replaced by a facial ‘tap on’ public transport system.

“In the transport space we’ll use facial recognition technology to scan customers who’ve ‘opted in’ and linked their Opal account,” Constance said in a speech to the Sydney Institute. “No more gate barriers – just a smooth journey,” he added.

However, that was in the pre-COVID world of 2019 before governments started accruing significant debt to support their economies which have been stifled by ongoing lockdowns.

BPAY Group contacted Transport for NSW to see whether it had any plans to implement facial recognition technology. In response, a Transport for NSW spokesperson said,  “Transport for NSW is continuously reviewing emerging technology solutions to make it easier and more convenient for customers to access and pay for transport.”

Published by BPAY Pty Ltd (ABN 69 079 137 518) email: marketing@bpay.com.au. The BPAY Scheme is managed by BPAY Pty Limited.  When you use BPAY payment products, the BPAY Scheme is paid fees relating to processing costs and BPAY Scheme membership.  Contact your financial institution to see if it offers BPAY payment products and to get the Product Disclosure Statement.  Any financial product advice provided by BPAY Pty Limited in relation to BPAY payment products is general advice only and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs.  Before acting on such advice, you should review the Product Disclosure Statement and consider whether BPAY payment products are appropriate for your personal circumstances.
 

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