Imagine a future where you have to pay for everything with your face. If you’re unable to provide facial recognition to authorities, you’ll be restricted from accessing basic necessities like transportation, banks, and stores, effectively isolating you from society.
You might not have to imagine a scenario like this very strongly because it may soon become our reality.
But why would you need to display your face to use public transportation or make payments? This might seem like a pointless requirement, but the reasoning behind it is clear. By having easy identification, you can be monitored and tracked. This way, if you engage in any activities that are not approved by the authorities, they can quickly identify and isolate you at any location or moment.
A pay-by-face system is already becoming increasingly widespread around the world.
In Moscow, for example, authorities recently introduced one of the most large-scale, advanced facial recognition payment systems dubbed “Face Pay.”
With this system, commuters can make payments at over 240 metro stations without the need for cards, cash, or phones.
The catch is that the Moscow police can then use the facial recognition data to monitor and track down the Kremlin’s opponents.
Following recent protests in January over the arrest of Alexey Navalny, media reports suggest that over a dozen protesters and bystanders were arrested and charged based on facial recognition data.
This has raised concerns about privacy and surveillance.
However, the reach and expansion of this new technology extend beyond Moscow as it makes its way to the United States and beyond.
In 2022, Mastercard unveiled a new initiative that enables retailers to implement biometric payment options, such as facial recognition and fingerprint scanning.
This means that consumers can now verify their payments simply by presenting their face or hand, eliminating the need for a traditional credit card swipe.
According to Mastercard executives, this technology has the potential to play a crucial role in building the payment infrastructure for the emerging “metaverse.”
In 2020, PopID, a Pasadena-based company, launched the first facial recognition payment system in the U.S.
This system is available in a few restaurants close to their headquarters, including both independent operations like Daddy’s Chicken Shack and larger chains such as Lemonade.
To use the system, customers start by signing up through their phone, taking a selfie, and adding funds to their Pop Pay account through a credit card or bank account.
At the time of payment, they simply look into the camera on a PopID tablet or kiosk, the cashier confirms their identity, and the funds are automatically deducted from the account.
Tucano Coffee has introduced a new payment method at its Afi Park coffee shop in Bucharest, Romania, allowing customers to make seamless and touchless payments using facial recognition technology.
More and more of these kinds of payment systems are popping up, and it is likely we will continue to see more in the future. While some advocates claim that it represents the next step in payment evolution, going as far as to call it the “future of digital payment,” it could potentially lead to a dystopian future instead.