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This ‘pay-by-face’ system could be the future of your wallet

The way we pay for things has been constantly evolving. From cash to checks, to swiping a credit card, to inserting your credit card, to tapping your credit card, to tapping your phone, to … smiling for the camera?

The next evolution is here and now your wallet is your face.

In Pasadena, California, identity authentication company PopID has begun rolling out new “face-pay” kiosks to more than 25 restaurants and retailers. The kiosks use opt-in facial recognition, wherein customers create a profile with PopID, take a selfie, and submit their credit card information for “hands-free purchases.” The kiosks are being used in restaurants as well as at drive-thrus.

‘Just amazing’

According to John Miller, the chairman of PopID’s parent company, Cali Group, the technology has been in development since around 2016, but COVID-19 has accelerated the rollout.

“There’s a need for contact-free payment, and a willingness to put profitability and safety above privacy concerns,” Miller told Digital Trends.

Ray Ledford, the owner of Lêberry Bakery along with several other franchise restaurants in the Pasadena area, said he would put these kiosks in every location he owns if he could. Currently, he only has the kiosks installed in Lêberry Bakery.

“There’s no touching, there’s nothing whatsoever for [the customer] to do,” he said. “I think it’s just amazing.”

Ledford had actually been working with PopID since before the pandemic hit.

“The way tech is going and the way different people have been able to scam and steal people’s credit card information, I think it’s great,” Ledford said. “You don’t have to carry around a credit card or wallet.” And as Miller pointed out, your face doesn’t run out of battery, and can’t get lost.

Chris Georgaklas, who co-owns Daddy’s Chicken Shack with his wife, chef Pace Webb, said they brought in the kiosks a few months into the pandemic, partly to act as a physical barrier between people and partly to help ease the ordering process.

“I wouldn’t have done this 10 years ago, but now I open my phone every day with my face,” Georgaklas said. “The way we look at it, it’s like electricity. I’m sure when electricity was discovered, there were all these doomsday predictions. It took 50 years for people to trust the elevator. Same with ATMs and plastic credit cards. We’re in that beginning phase now with this kind of technology. It’s inevitable that people will be using facial recognition at some point.”

The way of the future?

Experts have warned about the potential for privacy abuse with facial-recognition technology, but Eve Maler, chief technology officer at the digital identity management company ForgeRock, says that won’t slow the adoption of the handy new tech.

This restaurant plan is just the latest example, she said.

“We’re already a society that uses biometrics for payment,” Maler said. “We use TouchID to log into websites and pay for groceries. People are really just looking for convenience and value.”

“The truth is, hackers can clone people’s credit cards right now,” said George Brostoff, CEO of Sensiblevision, one of the biggest private companies working on facial recognition right now. “But if someone has a picture of your face, you can’t simply use the picture.”

Facial authentication won’t work with just printing off a picture of a face. But Brostoff said, it’s still incumbent on these companies to assure users that their data will be kept safe.

“There’s already so much negative baggage around facial recognition,” he said. “People will want to have the confidence that it’s private. The convenience is great, I think it’s great they’re doing this, and doing it around COVID makes a lot of sense, but they shouldn’t overplay it.”

PopID says the information is not being sold to third parties or being stored. Miller told Digital Trends the company keeps records of people’s names, faces, and phone numbers for communication purposes.

Credit card information is tokenized, and not stored with PopID, Miller said.

“Our view is that there’s no privacy issue here, because we hold on to the picture, and the worst that happens if someone hacks our system is they get your picture,” Miller said. “Most people who would sign up for this have their face all over the internet already.”

The system is also completely voluntary. If a person chooses to opt out, Miller said their data will eventually be “completely destroyed.”

The most telling thing about the advance of the tech: Young people love it. “The older generation doesn’t get it,” said Ledberry. “But millennials and younger people, they love it. It’s so easy and quick and efficient.”

“This is how Gen Y and Gen Z will be living now,” said Georgaklas. “Soon this is going to be as ubiquitous as Facebook.”

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Maya Shwayder
I'm a multimedia journalist currently based in New England. I previously worked for DW News/Deutsche Welle as an anchor and…
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