Over 100 Million Chinese Are Paying For Their Purchase Using Facial Recognition

Harin - Oct 29, 2019


Over 100 Million Chinese Are Paying For Their Purchase Using Facial Recognition

Facial recognition tech is shaping Chinese consumers behavior with more and more people have started using their faces to pay for their goods.

Facial recognition tech started to shape how Chinese consumers pay for their bills. More and more people have started using their faces to pay at stores or registering a monthly ticket at train stations.

In a country where mobile payments have been growing significantly in recent years, over 1,000 stores have started to install facial payment systems and more than 100 million Chinese have registered to use this tech.

While using facial recognition tech offers consumers convenience, many give warnings about how the country is expanding its citizen tracking to an alarming level.

To experience this convenience, users first need to register their original photos with the smartphone application of the face payment service providers. A new rule which will be in effect starting this December requires consumers to register their photos with their mobile service providers.

facial-payment
More and more people have started using their faces to pay at stores.

In May, the Seven-Eleven chain of convenience stores introduced facial payment service at their stores, mostly in the South of China, including Guangdong. Around 1,000 Seven-Eleven stores started adopting this system, allowing customers to pay for their goods by scanning their faces at the cashier.

According to a report from the chain operator, about 10% of customers in the business districts of Guangzhou paid for with their faces.

Even small restaurants have started using this technology. Moreover, there is an increase in the number of vending machines.

Under government push, facial recognition software is being accepted even at subway stations, allowing passengers to use their faces as boarding passes.

A new system installed at train stations in Guangzhou this September has brought about a seamless journey for commuters even during peak hours, a 23-year-old woman working in the city said.

Commuters can go through gates by looking at tablets equipped with ticket scanning systems. If they have already registered their faces through a smartphone application, they don’t even have to carry their phones to pay for their tickets.

The facial recognition ticket system has also been introduced in other cities including Beijing and Shanghai. This system is expected to be expanded to other cities in the next few years.

The value of mobile payments in China has reached around $28 trillion per year. However, some analysts predict that facial payment will replace smartphones in payment operations in the next two years.

Major mobile payment platforms in China like Alibaba’s Alipay or Tencent’s WeChat Pay both support facial payment systems. This payment method is faster, easier to use and smoother than mobile payments or fingerprint authentication.

This trend also fuels a series of Chinese AI startups on facial recognition technology, including Megvii Technology, founded in 2011. Other startups include SenseTime and YiTu. All of these are unicorn startups valued at more than $1 billion.

facial-payment-train-stations
Facial recognition software is being accepted even at subway stations, allowing passengers to use their faces as boarding passes.

As facial recognition technology is getting better, it also raises concerns about state surveillance, privacy breaches, and increased abuse.

In September, Megvii pledged to accept social scrutiny for its efforts to protect user privacy after it received criticism for its use of facial recognition to monitor student behavior in the classroom. The system uses multiple cameras mounted around the classroom to closely monitor students, for example, if they are paying attention or not.

Chinese media criticized this system, arguing it would put too much pressure on students.

According to a law in effect in 2017, the Chinese government reverses the right to hold any private data owned by companies. The law requires companies in China to provide the information they have to the government when national security is at stake.

While China is increasingly adopting facial recognition tech, the rest of the world is still being skeptical about its use. The US and Europe have imposed strict restrictions on the use of the technology due to concerns about privacy and human rights violations.

Since 2018, the European Union’s GDPR law has banned the collection of biometric data including facial recognition data that can be used for identifying individuals.

In the US, four cities, including San Francisco have decided to restrict police and other public organizations from using facial recognition systems.

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