Biometric Technology and the Mobile Wallet


Imagine that you’re standing in line at your local supermarket. The woman ahead of you scrambles through her wallet for a credit card, inserts the chip, waits for a printed receipt, signs a copy, and then heads on her way. You’re up next. The cashier quickly scans your groceries and then it’s time to pay. Smartphone already in hand, you use your fingerprint or face to access your mobile wallet. A quick tap or scan at the reader and you’re good to go. Paying has never been easier—no chip, pin, or signature required.

While this might sound like some high-tech futuristic scenario, using biometric authentication to make a purchase is already possible for mobile wallet users. Apple Pay and Samsung Pay have implemented biometric technology to make paying in-store quicker and easier. Biometric authentication essentially uses unique physical characteristics—such as fingerprints or facial features—to verify a person’s identity. It is one of the newest security measures with great potential for growth and usage in a variety of areas. Biometric technology is already used for airport security, entrance into buildings and facilities, online banking, and for securing personal devices like laptops, tablets, or smartphones.

Fingerprint scanning, in particular, became popular when smartphones began including fingerprint readers in their hardware. Many smartphone users are accustomed to scanning their fingerprint to quickly unlock their phone or make in-app purchases. Similarly, newer devices now include facial recognition. While paying for something by taking a selfie might sound like something out of Sci-Fi movie, it is increasingly becoming a reality as biometric technology gains popularity around the world. In 2017, Chinese tech giant, Alipay, launched a program called “Smile to Pay” which enables consumers to make purchases at self-service kiosks using facial recognition. While such kiosks are not currently mainstream in the USA, the newest iOS devices do use facial recognition for simple but necessary tasks like unlocking the phone and activating Apple Wallet.

Aside from convenience, biometric technologies also offer increased security. It is extremely difficult to fool a biometric reader, so false positives are highly unlikely. Biometrics identify people based on who they are, rather than what they know (i.e. a password or pin) or what they have (i.e. a keycard). Additionally, it eliminates the threat of having a password stolen, or the possibility of a forgotten pin. This makes biometric technology ideal for high-security mobile payments and banking, which is why mobile wallets and banking apps have already begun implementing it as a security measure.

Of course, there is more research and development to be done in the realm of biometrics, but one thing’s for sure: using fingerprints or face ID to pay in-store is not as futuristic as it seems.

Ariana Alessandri