Once upon a time we bartered; we exchanged animal skins for meat and sold our labour for a square meal. Then, gradually, coins and paper money arrived. Banks became secure. We wrote cheques. We had a credit card in our pocket as the ads encouraged us ‘to take the waiting out of wanting.’
Debit cards arrived. The use of cash, significantly aided by the pandemic, started to dwindle. Most of us spent 2020 simply tapping our mobile phones if we wanted to pay for something.
But could even that technology soon be outdated? Is the next great payment ‘leap forward’ on the horizon? Is paying for something going to be easier and more convenient than we could ever have imagined? Or will it herald a leap forward for Big Brother as we start to pay for things not with our phones, or with our bank cards, but with our face…
All we would need to do is present our face in front of a scanner. If we needed to, we could even add a tip simply by waving our hand.
Science fiction? Years in the future?
No, millions around the world are already using the technology. The experts say that paying with our face won’t just be easy and convenient – it will also be inevitable.
As you might expect, the biggest advances are being made in the Far East. In China 98% of mobile payments go through Alipay, jointly owned by Alibaba and WeChat Pay. The two companies are now competing with each other in the facial recognition market.
Millions are being committed to the research, with Chinese state media suggesting that 760m people could be using facial recognition by next year.
On the West Coast of America, PopID is following a similar route. You sign up on the website, upload a photo of your face and then link the account to your bank card. Your photo is stored in the cloud, with the app already being used in restaurants and cafés in major cities.
PopID’s CEO John Miller says that using your face is no different to using your phone. “It’s just another way to identify yourself. The picture taken at point of sale is destroyed immediately.” Therefore, he argues, it is less intrusive than paying with your phone, which can track your movements via GPS.
There will, though, be inevitable privacy concerns. As the stories coming out of China testify, not every use of facial recognition is necessarily benign.
…And there could be another problem. Supposing you finally decide to do something about those bags under your eyes? Your double chin? Could our payments be declined because we suddenly look ten years younger? “I’m sorry, sir, your payment has been declined. Your face doesn’t fit…”
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