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Mobile payments

MasterCard in race with China’s Alibaba to debut 'pay-with-a-selfie’ software for mobile transactions

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 July, 2015, 6:33pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 July, 2015, 6:37pm

MasterCard will launch a pilot programme this autumn that allows users of mobile devices to pay for online purchases by taking a photograph of their face.

When the consumer has finished shopping, they will be prompted to take a ‘selfie’. Facial recognition software will then coordinate the approval process.

Although the pilot scheme will initially be limited to 500 customers, MasterCard said it will broaden its scope if the trial run is successful.

“The new generation, which is into selfies ... I think they’ll find it cool. They’ll embrace it,” Ajay Bhalla, MasterCard’s president of enterprise safety and security, told CNNMoney.

The financial services company has partnered with major smartphone makers including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung to facilitate the new function, it said.

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba also has plans to allow mobile payments using facial-recognition software. One of its subsidiaries, Ant Financial, is developing the technology and will roll out its “Smile to Pay” feature in China initially, the company said.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma demonstrated the technology in March at a conference in Germany by purchasing a stamp and paying for it after taking a selfie to confirm his identity. The company has not provided an official launch date for the new feature, which it said it plans to later expand globally.

But critics have expressed concern that the technology is open for abuse.

In 2011, one user in Malaysia proved how easy it was to fool an Android phone into unlocking after showing it a photograph of his face, which was promptly accepted as proof of identity. 

In a bid to circumvent this, MasterCard and other companies now require people to blink while using facial recognition software. Yet even this is not bulletproof.

Dan Moren, writing for US magazine Popular Science, exposed the chinks in the armour of this technology by showing the device a video of him blinking, in order to beat the system.