Passwords are so last year: Alibaba has tech that’ll let you pay with your face

alibaba pay with face tech news jack ma
Natalie Behring/ World Economic Forum
Biometrics are very popular lately. At Mobile World Congress, we saw dozens of companies trying to find better ways to read your fingerprint, scan your eyes, and verify your identity with your face. The tech’s been around for a while, but it may soon become a daily part of our lives, if Alibaba’s CEO Jack Ma gets his way.

At CeBit in Germany, Ma demoed a futuristic payment method that would let customers verify transactions, not with a fingerprint or a password, but with their face. Ma simply held up his phone as if to take a selfie, and the facial recognition software scanned his face to verify his gift purchase for the mayor of Hannover. He found the souvenir stamp from the city’s 1948 trade fair on Alibaba, tapped the “buy” button, and paid for it, simply by showing his face to his phone’s camera at checkout.

“[Using] online payments to buy things is always a big headache,” he said, according to Re/code. “You forget your password, you worry about security. Today we’ll show you a new technology, how in the future people will buy things online.”

After the demonstration, Ma didn’t take any questions, nor did he say when the facial recognition tech would be used as the default checkout and payment verification method on the company’s mobile payment system Alipay. However, it’s entirely possible that the tech could come to Alipay users sooner rather than later.

It’s unclear who the tech comes from, or if Alibaba developed it independently. A similar app, called 1U from Hoyos Labs in the U.S. uses a scan of your face to verify passwords and logins on various websites, including bank accounts. Various levels of security can be applied to specific accounts, so that the software can’t be fooled by high-resolution images or stills — To get past the security, the user must prove that they’re alive by moving their head and eyes around. Nonetheless, security remains a concern for biometrics, especially where money is involved.

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