BEIJING: No cash, no cards, no wallet and no smartphones: China’s shoppers are increasingly purchasing goods with just a turn of their heads as the country embraces facial
China’s mobile payment infrastructure is one of the most advanced in the world, but the new systems — which require only face
recognition — being rolled out nationwide could make even QR codes seem old-fashioned.
Customers simply make a purchase by posing in front of point-of-sale (POS) machines equipped with cameras, after linking an image of their face to a digital payment system or
“I don’t even have to bring a mobile phone with me, I can go out and do shopping without taking anything,” said Bo Hu, chief information officer of Wedome bakery, which uses facial payment machines across hundreds
“This was not possible either at the earliest stage of mobile payment — only after the birth of facial recognition technology can we complete the payment without anything else,” he explained.
The software is already widely used, often to monitor citizens — it has been credited with nabbing jaywalkers and catching criminals.
But authorities have come under fire for using it to crack down and monitor dissent, particularly in China’s surveillance-heavy region of Xinjiang.
“There’s a big risk... that the state could use this data for their own purposes, such as surveillance, monitoring, the tracking of political dissidents, social and information control, ethnic profiling, as in the case with Uighurs in Xinjiang, and even predictive policing,” said Adam Ni, China researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney.
“This is certainly one of the more contentious aspects of the gathering of facial recognition data and the usage of them.”
Despite the concerns over data security and privacy, consumers seem unperturbed as facial
recognition payment hits the
Alipay — the financial arm of ecommerce giant Alibaba — has been leading the charge in China with devices already in 100 cities.
The firm is predicting enormous growth in the sector and recently launched an upgrade of its “Smile-to-Pay” system, using a machine roughly the size of an iPad.
Alipay will spend three billion yuan ($420 million) over three years on implementing
Tencent, which runs the WeChat app with 600 million users, unveiled its new facial payment machine called “Frog Pro” in August, while a growing number of start-ups are trying to tap into the burgeoning industry.
“(Facial payment) certainly has the potential to become popular with the wide push from major mobile payment players,” said Mengmeng Zhang, an analyst
“Alipay is spending (billions) to popularise facial payment technology through giving out subsidies for vendors and rewards for consumers that use facial payment,” she added.
At the IFuree self-service supermarket in Tianjin, a 3D camera scans the faces of those entering the store — measuring width, height and depth of the faces — then another quick scan again at check-out.
“It’s convenient because you can buy things very quickly,” said retiree Zhang Liming after using facial payment for her groceries.