Marina

Fintech Journalist

In California, Your Face Can Be Your Credit Card

Whether you are craving a burger or Chinese food tonight, there is no need to reach for your wallet or phone to buy it. Food vendors in California are embracing facial recognition — technology that lets you pay with a smile.

Smile to pay for that pizza

Imagine that you have been shopping for two hours and now you are craving lunch. With your hands full of shopping bags, pulling out a credit card seems quite a challenge. Instead, you go to the self-ordering kiosk at your favorite restaurant and smile at it — the screen immediately offers to repeat your past orders, thanks to the built-in facial recognition tech. You agree and smile at the kiosk again — this time to pay for the food… voila! The order is then processed, and all you have to do is collect that piece of pizza and your Coke from the counter.
For some Americans that’s not the future, but the present of payments.Although ‘Pay with a smile’ tech has made it into the news as an innovation available at KFC locations in China, you don’t have to travel that far to test it.
CaliBurger, a California-based fast food chain, has been using facial recognition technology to simplify the checkout process for almost two years now.
Their kiosk software greets regular customers personally, offers to repeat past orders, modify them and pay for food with nothing else but their face.
After a successful trial at a pilot location in 2017, the company has rolled out facial recognition kiosks at all locations in the US and Canada and is now incorporating the technology in their restaurants in Mexico.
And CaliBurger is not the only company that lets you pay with a smile in the US. Their technology is also used by other food vendors in California and the neighbouring states.

Pay for things with your body parts

Not long ago, Apple Pay and contactless cards seemed a real innovation. Fast forward three years and here we are: talking about people buying food with nothing but their face. That seems to be just the beginning. 
MasterCard has recently launched its Selfie Pay Wallet — a digital wallet that requires Face ID to complete a payment. Now the company offers this same technology to merchants. 
The company spokesman explains that Face ID shouldn’t be the only payment technology of the future. Depending on circumstances customers may choose to use other biometric data, such as fingerprint or voice recognition to authenticate themselves. It makes sense, because Face ID may not work correctly in a dark room, just as fingerprint recognition won’t work correctly if your hands are wet, and voice recognition can fail to identify you in a loud environment.

Is facial recognition secure?

Facial recognition technology may seem fresh, but governments have been secretly working on it since the 1960s. However, it has been the prerogative of special agencies and has not been nearly as widely available until recently. Now, as the technology becomes available to literally anyone, the legal status and ethics of it becomes a hot topic.
In China, a facial recognition system is already used by police to identify jaywalkers and some police officers are already wearing AR-glasses with built-in facial recognition (sadly, China uses it to publicly shame jaywalkers by displaying their faces on large screens, but that’s a different story).
Yet the technology is raising some concerns primarily in terms of reliability. Can we trick the software with the right makeup? Some people are claiming that is possible. CV Dazzle and some other websites even offer tips on how to cover your face to make it unrecognizable to the software. But although you can possibly hide your face under certain makeup, you can’t do this to mimic somebody else’s face.
The Australian Government, which is experimenting with replacing passports with facial recognition, says their software detects more faces correctly than their passport officers. Although the technology is not quite ready to replace passports, it seems to be accurate enough for commercial vendors. Indeed, facial recognition is more secure than traditional credit cards.
Accumulating big facial databases in one place is a second privacy concern after accuracy. ‘What happens if such a database becomes exposed?’ is a very common question. As with any personal information database, utilizing blockchain here may provide some much needed extra protection. But if you think about it further, you may come to a conclusion that a facial database gives hackers fewer opportunities to steal your identity than an email database, customer login database or traditional online payment system. Hackers can get your card number, login and password, but they can’t steal your face to use it without letting you know.

Is this legal?

Facial recognition is still new for the majority of people, and it is often surrounded by fear of personal privacy loss. However, according to a recent survey conducted by the Center for Data Innovation, only 26.2% of respondents think the government should strictly limit the use of it.
San Francisco has banned facial recognition at all levels. In Europe all entities using facial recognition apps or technology must comply with strict GDPR rules. Most importantly, companies must disclose full information about what will be collected, and how this information will be used, and get a customer’s consent before recording anything. There is no US-wide law on facial recognition at the time of writing, although the topic is being actively discussed by the Senate.

Two cheeseburgers and a large Coke, please

Facial recognition technology is most likely here to stay at both commercial and government levels. The software may not be perfect to completely replace passports just yet, but it is already replacing bank cards and cash payments. Paying with a smile is a reality at KFC in China and some fast food restaurants and universities in California and several other US states, and selected vendors in Canada. It seems that mass adoption of the technology is just around the corner. Wouldn’t it be nice to pay for your next burger with a smile?

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