19 Dec Payment – authorize by palm?
WeChat operator Tencent wants to use palm scanners for payments. This raises questions. A bottle of soda for just one cent? Sounds like a good deal. The catch: you can only pay by having your palm scanned and sharing that biometric data with a Chinese tech giant. The offer was recently made by Tencent, known as the operator of WeChat, to a handful of Chinese consumers, as seen in a video posted on Douyin, the Chinese variant of TikTok, in late September. In the video, a person who appears to be a WeChat employee can be heard instructing people to hold their hand in front of a recognition device and allow palm scans in exchange for the special lemonade deal. “This is a new feature of WeChat Pay. Everyone is welcome to test our service and support us,” says the voice off-camera. The user who uploaded the video asks how new the feature is – and the voice replies that it is only recently available in the Chinese city of Guangzhou. As it turns out from social media posts, Tencent, which also operates the WeChat Pay payment system, has been testing payment devices with palm scanners in China for months. Proponents of the technology say it is more accurate and secure than other forms of biometrics – including leaks. But while fingerprint and face recognition is already widely used for identity verification, methods for distinguishing palm prints – including the visible lines and veins under the skin – have so far only gained acceptance in specialized areas.
But although a lack of training data has slowed development of the technique, it is now almost ready for mass commercial application, researchers say. “I can tell you quite honestly that we have been working on palmprint recognition for over 20 years. Now is the time,” says David Zhang, an expert in the field and professor at the School of Data Science at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Shenzhen. He said he is currently in the process of designing commercial applications. And that’s where Tencent comes in. The new recognition technology is undoubtedly attractive as the company competes with Alipay for dominance in payment services. In addition, because China still has a zero-COVID policy, which means that people still wear masks and avoid physical contact, non-contact palm scans look attractive. With current methods, you hold your hand a few centimeters in front of the camera; touching it, as with fingerprint scans, is not necessary. Accordingly, big data collection has broken out at Tencent: By offering users small cash rewards in exchange for their participation and data, the company is one step closer to making palm recognition commonplace – and on a really large scale.