Alibaba to Use Biometrics to Say ‘Open Sesame’

Mobile CommerceAlibaba, the huge Chinese commerce company that recently made waves with its IPO, is planning to incorporate biometric security in its payment system, according to a Wall Street Journal blog article by Juro Osawa. Alipay, the e-commerce wing of the company, is currently enjoying great success with its mobile payment app Alipay Wallet. With 190 million active users, it’s easily the top mobile payment tool in China, and given the Alibaba’s increasing profile on the international market, it makes a lot of sense to come up with more advanced security protocols.

At a recent press conference, a senior director of Zhejian Ant Small & Micro Financial Services Group, which owns Alipay, explained that “[b]iological identification will become very important in the future” as customers’ real-world identities become merged with their virtual identities. As such, Alipay is looking into the possibilities of fingerprint scanning – as Apple has done in anticipation of its Apple Pay platform – and also facial recognition technology, for which it has teamed up with Beijing-based software developer Megvii.

While facial recognition technology is less accurate than fingerprint-scanning, traditionally having had a success rate around 70 percent, its great advantage as an identification tool is that it doesn’t require any special hardware other than a camera, which most phones already have. Moreover, Megvii claims its facial recognition software has attained an accuracy rate of 91 percent, and in any case Alipay is mostly looking to use this kind of technology for user authentication, not electronic payments.

For the biometric security to be used in its mobile payments, Alipay has turned to another Chinese firm: Huawei Technologies, whose latest smartphone, the Ascend Mate 7, already has a fingerprint scanner built in, making it a good fit for the Alipay Wallet app.

Given Alibaba’s size and Alipay’s popularity in Chinese, these developments could mean large-scale integration of biometric security technologies into the mass market – another exciting step forward for the industry as Apple prepares the launch of its Apple Pay system in the US.