Will Pay-By-Face Catch On?

Jul 26, 2013

Fingerprints are so old school. Apparently, in Finland you will soon be able to pay for your purchases in retail stores with nothing more than your face, smiles are optional.

According to reports, a startup called Uniqul has developed a system that uses facial recognition to enable shoppers to pay for purchases. The system uses a tablet at checkout which takes a photo of the customer’s face and retrieves account information after making the visual connection.

The company claims to use military grade security to protect consumer data and to process payments at speeds faster than conventional methods. To use the system, consumers pay a monthly subscription (€0.99) and register their preferred methods of payment.

[Image: Uniqul

Where do you see the future of payment technology heading? Will systems using facial recognition technology be accepted in the U.S.?

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19 Comments on "Will Pay-By-Face Catch On?"

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Dick Seesel

At least 3/4 of the stores I walk into equipped with “readers” for embedded chips in credit cards have not activated them. If it’s so difficult to get this up and running, I am not optimistic about facial recognition anytime soon. The in-between step is fingerprint recognition, and I can see privacy concerns (and the costs of technology) being roadblocks for at least the next few years.

Tom Redd

We will be card and pin for quite a while. Finger prints are too much work…a cut on the finger, too much oil on it, etc., and no good read. Reading the face? No dice for me. My image is changing too fast for a system to track it. Why? These Millennials are messin’ up my retail world, it is Friday, and other reasons. It is not age. I am a retail guy and we do not age.

Stick with card, pin and cash and have a great weekend.

Cathy Hotka


Posing for a picture in the store? Then paying a euro a month to maintain a subscription? So customers who like the idea and want to use it at 10 stores will pay ten euros a month?


Ian Percy

Yes it can be done. But the more complex the software the more the security risk. I chuckled when I read the phrase “military grade security”—which we can add to the list of oxymorons. In the private sector, about 40% of IT spend goes to maintenance—getting software to work properly, be compatible and so on. In the government (read military) a whopping 73% is spent trying to get things to work. The government as a model of technological excellence…no thanks!

Ken Lonyai

Technologically pay-by-face (or for that matter, any biometric) is completely feasible today. I’ve done a few projects with secure facial recognition and can say that it absolutely is more secure/trustworthy than a credit card and signature. However, most people are still not ready for this and other forms of NUI (natural user interface) outside of gaming/entertainment realms. Aside from errant perceptions of security glitches or unreliability, there is the privacy concern and question of who is storing biometric data and how it’s being used/shared.

Someday I think things will work this way, but (for psychological reasons) it will require a long adoption curve that cannot be rushed.

Frank Riso

I do think the future of payment will be the use of our smartphones. We go nowhere without them. They will unlock doors, start the car, pay for things…just saying. On the topic of facial recognition, what do we do with identical twins? And there are days I just do not look like myself…will that be an issue? I know too much information. It is such a far out technology, it just might be acceptable in some distant future when even money may be a has been!

Steve Montgomery

Just a few days ago the issue was facial recognition at retail, now it’s pay by face. I don’t think we will be seeing either being rolled out anytime soon.

I expect we will soon be commenting on the concept of have a personal ID chip implanted for payment. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

Zel Bianco

Not saying this is impossible, it’s obvious that anything is possible, but I doubt this would catch on in the United States, at least for quite some time. This reminds me of the license-plate cameras that take photos of cars running traffic lights. It has been suspended in a lot of places due to the fact that cameras are inaccurate and people are not being ticketed properly. I can only begin to imagine how many times the wrong person will get an incorrect bill. I don’t think this is a good idea.

Todd Sherman
Todd Sherman
4 years 2 months ago

High on the cool factor, but scary on the privacy front. (Can you say “Minority Report”?). And yes, it takes a critical mass to get over the $1/month subscription that will be required for each retailer shopped. If it were free and there were economic incentives for the shopper, that could alter the dynamic.

My bet is on the smartphone becoming the wallet.

It will be a good science project to keep an eye on….

Ralph Jacobson

Having seen the development of facial recognition intelligence technologies within our own IBM Research Group over the years, I strongly believe US shoppers will adopt this as they become aware of its inherent security advantages. As with most loyalty programs, if the benefits of membership are perceived, then adoption quickly follows.

Herb Sorensen
I’m doubting facial recognition is “IT.” I do think the current privacy kerfuffles are going to take longer to settle, and have a larger societal impact than we might think. In a sense, the real issue is how do we prove who we are, and keep anyone else from successfully stealing “us,” that is, our identity. This won’t be settled in a year or two, and maybe not in a decade or two, plus. I do believe the smart phone wallet is likely to become the new “us.” But for that to be successful, the wallet itself must recognize “us” infallibly, before we will trust it to report to the world that “we” are present. What I am saying is that I think direct recognition of us, electronically, by a third party, will always be more risky, than allowing our own personally owned technology to report that “it is I, myself, that is present.” Teaching the smart phone to recognize its owner, maybe better than my dog recognizes me, is the real identity challenge. But smartphones can have personal identity recognition components (sensors) that may be far more intrusive than anything we would tolerate from the public. Think of biometrics.… Read more »
Ed Dunn
4 years 2 months ago

The way I would test facial recognition development projects is with photographs of people.

So in essence, all one have to do to bypass security on facial recognition technology is put up a photo of the person they wish to impersonate in front of the camera lens.

So this technology is not foolproof and not secure enough for transactions.

Ed Rosenbaum

This is an example of creative minds doing something outside the box. Finland is already ahead of us educationally. So why not in futuristic efforts?

Craig Sundstrom

In response to the cost concerns, I believe it is a flat fee for ALL retailers linked to the system (but apparently that’s for a limited area, and the “unlimited” range is more like 7)
But whatever the actual cost details, do people really want this? Is carrying a credit card really so hard? And people who use PayPal and other such e-processors don’t even need that. In short, as many here have noted, high on the “kewl!” factor, but also high on the “so?” factor.

Larry Negrich

Facial recognition as payment method, sure. Why not iris or retinal scanning? They’re probably more accurate. (Or DNA matching?) It’s all possible if the consumer is willing to submit the sample for the master database.

More likely though, instead of a payment form, facial recognition as an identity verification method against a payment form is probably more palatable to consumers in the near term. One thing for sure, as digital wallets are adopted by consumers there are going to have to be more powerful/accurate identity verification methods and systems than what is being used today.

One final thought: If facial recognition is allowed as a form of payment, I think you will see a stark increase in doppelganger crime. 😉

Kai Clarke

Perhaps. Although NFC (near field communications) using a cell phone, seems to be a more reliable and secure alternative instead of facial recognition. Only time will tell!

Jerry Gelsomino

Whatever makes it simpler, faster, and doesn’t overcomplicate the transaction works for me!

Shilpa Rao

Switching to facial payments means changing a lot at the store. While it sounds really fascinating, the technology has still to mature and retailers have other priorities to invest in at store.

Alexander Rink
4 years 2 months ago

I don’t know that facial recognition in particular will take off in the U.S., but I think it is fair to say that retailers will continually be exploring ways to make the buying process quicker and easier—whether it be facial recognition, NFC, mobile payments, other forms of biometrics, or some as-yet unreported technology enabler.


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