Pay With a Smile—and Alipay—With New Facial Recognition System

September 6, 2017         By: Steven Anderson

The notion of paying with a selfie isn’t new. However, they aren’t exactly widely used, or even widely seen. That may be about to change thanks to a new development from Alipay, who launched a new facial recognition system known as “Smile to Pay.”

Smile to Pay recently made its debut at a KPRO in Hangzhou, with KPRO being a kind of healthy version of KFC. KPRO offers us fare unusual for a KFC by any stretch, including shrimp, smoked salmon, sandwiches with grilled chicken, and of course, salads. The part that really matters to us, however, is that you can actually pay for it via a facial scan. It’s not just a facial scan, however, as you’ll also have to input your mobile phone number to go along with the facial scan.

The combination of the two seems to be particularly helpful here, as it’s producing accuracy and security figures that are pretty impressive in their own right. Using a combination of a 3D camera and what’s called a “live-ness detection algorithm”—which presumably helps the system tell the difference between a photo and a real human being—the end result is proof that the face is the person’s face.

The fact that Alipay is covering losses in event of theft, meanwhile, shows the company’s putting its money where its collective mouth is. This is a technology that’s been in the works for years; it got its debut back in 2015 a the CEBIT show in Germany, and now we’re seeing it go live.

Given Alipay’s rapid acceleration in entering other countries to offer service, it stands to reason that it would be likewise working to expand its offering domestically as well. Offering more services to its Chinese users helps ensure that said Chinese will stick with Alipay when traveling abroad as well. Without that domestic user base, the foreign expansions just don’t have the meaning. What good does it do to offer Alipay everywhere when most Chinese are using WeChat Pay instead? Alipay needs to maintain its dominance in China or risk invalidating its international expansion efforts.

Technology like Smile to Pay will certainly help, and the more it catches on, the better the chances that Chinese will stick with Alipay, not only at home, but also abroad.