Mastercard has launched a biometrics pilot to let consumers pay with the palm of their hand or with their face rather than swiping or tapping a credit card.
This is currently live in grocery stores in Brazil – but will begin roll out across the world this year. Mastercard says that “consumers love biometrics” and want payments to be “as convenient as opening their phone” but they already have this, because consumers can make mobile payments using their phone.
To sign up on Mastercard, you take a picture of your face or scan your fingerprint to register it with an app. This is done either on your smartphone or at a payment terminal. You can then add a credit card, which gets linked to your biometric data.
The old school civil libertarian in me has concerns. Facial recognition payments are already common in Moscow for public transportation and in grocery sores. Alipay in China does this already, too. Here’s Justin Timberlake paying in time credits rather than currency using his arm.
While you may have trust in Mastercard, no one is immune to data breaches. They say the biometric data is encrypted, but they plan global interoperability so their system may only be as secure as the most draconian government wants it to be.
Mastercard also plans to use this to market to you, “integrat[ing] with loyalty schemes and makping] personalized recommendations based on previous purchases.” They also think this unlocks payments in the metaverse, where no physical cards exist, and could allow customers to try on clothing prior to purchase making payments with their eyes.
Mastercard showed off an augmented reality headset that warns the wearer if they’re on a potentially fraudulent e-commerce site. Another feature the firm is experimenting with allows users to select and buy items at a virtual store using nothing but their eyes.
When I signed up for Global Entry a decade ago I wrote that I didn’t like sharing biometrics, but government had so much information on us anyway it wasn’t clear that this really added that much. I wrote they were storing all cell phone geolocation data, before Edward Snowden’s revelations, and people thought I was a conspiracy theorist. I was right, and now we’re just immune to it.
I willingly give my biometrics to CLEAR in exchange for reducing wait times at airport security. And biometrics are being used at some airport boarding gates. It’s all optional but there’s often little meaningful opt-out, people aren’t told how to do it, and they’re inconvenienced if they do.
I’ve been Don Quixote, and we’ve reached the ‘night of the mirrors’ scene where I’m revealed to be just an old man yelling about biometrics – and not, in fact, a knight.