MasterCard will soon accept selfies to process online payments

23 Feb 2016

MasterCard is tuning into the youth market's love of selfies, but is it more secure than passwords?

Payments giant MasterCard has said it plans to accept selfies and fingerprints as an alternative to passwords and codes to accept online payments.

MasterCard, which has its global R&D headquarters in Dublin, announced the development at Mobile World Congress and said it plans to roll it out this summer in the UK, US, Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.

The system will require users to download a specific app to their PC, tablet or smartphone.

The system, which only kicks in when further authentication is required, will ask users to look at their phone’s camera or use the phone’s fingerprint sensor to verify their identity rather than a password.

To prove the person is real and it’s not just a photo, the person will be asked to blink into their camera while taking the selfie.

Picture this: the future of payments is biometrics

Currently, MasterCard provides a two-factor authentication service called SecureCode, which requires an additional password while shopping online and was used in 3bn transactions last year.

MasterCard is banking on the popularity of selfies among today’s youth as a way of encouraging the take-up of more seamless online payments.

Apple Pay ignited a payments revolution by making use of the iPhone’s fingerprint scanner as a way of validating payments, and rival services like Samsung Pay and Google’s Android Pay have followed suit.

While both Windows 10 and Google’s Android operating system allow users to unlock devices by looking at the cameras, MasterCard will be the first to allow users to use selfies to verify payments.

The MasterCard face payments initiative is being spearheaded by Ajah Bhalla, president of Enterprise Security Solutions at MasterCard, who led the initial rollout of contactless payments in 14 Asian markets.

Going Dutch: the early adopters love selfie payments

One of the first countries to experience the technology is the Netherlands where Dutch consumers are open to biometrics instead of passwords.

Some 750 ABN AMRO cardholders used biometrics like selfies and fingerprint payments for the past six months without passwords or confirmation codes.

After the pilot, the vast majority want to continue using a fingerprint and/or facial recognition (75pc) to complete a payment.

“The Dutch consumer is very progressive in embracing new technologies. Our country is the international leader in easy, safe and efficient payments,” said Arjan Bol, country manager of MasterCard Netherlands.

“We are now examining the possibilities to integrate our technology in the banking and tech giants’ apps to make payment using a selfie or fingerprint even easier.”

Of those surveyed, 95pc of the fingerprint users and 80pc of the facial recognition users indicated that shopping became more convenient using biometric authentication.

“Biometrics, unlike passwords, ensures convenience. People forget passwords, making the payment process unnecessarily long and complex, so we expect that passwords will slowly become obsolete in favour of a more user-friendly alternative, such as biometrical identification,” said André IJbema, manager of risk management at International Card Services for Mastercard.

Selfie image via Shutterstock


John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years