Phil Kelsey: A new age of identification

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There’s little doubt that the pace of change quickens with every generation when it comes to technology.

It took nearly 200 years from the Chinese inventing printing technology to the creation of the printing press in Gutenberg in 1440 for the system to be perfected. Even then it took 60 years before the first twenty million volumes were printed.

E-commerce has shown a totally different time scale with the first online sale taking place 25 years ago and now technology is looking to get rid of passwords that can’t be remembered in favour of facial or fingerprint recognition.

Accounts vary but it is generally accepted the first ever online purchase took place in 1994 – though there’s still some debate about whether the item in question was a pepperoni pizza or a Sting album.

In 2003, less than a decade later, 95 million mobile phone users worldwide made a purchase via their device. It’s estimated that by 2017, there will be $60 billion in mobile payment sales.

That’s less than 25 years since the first ever online purchase. Less than a generation.

But one thing has stood like a Colossus between eCommerce and complete domination of shopping and that is internet security.

The public’s acceptance of all manner of payment devices has grown, for sure. We now only need to wave our bank card at a payment machine to make a purchase but the spectre of online fraud has held back the march of eCommerce.

Until now passwords have been the means to prove our identity – and to protect ourselves we have all been forced to invent more complicated passwords. And often people forget at the point they reach the online basket to pay.

But passwords are soon to be a thing of the past and that means online shopping is close to another major leap forward.

Just last month Mastercard announced it is rolling out a new technology in Europe which makes it possible for consumers to pay with a selfie or by using fingerprint recognition.

The service, called Identity Check Mobile, is being rolled this month to Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the UK, after successful trials in the US and Canada.

Sometime next year, the technology will be available worldwide.

In its announcement the company said the ‘goal is to prevent shoppers abandoning their purchase because they forgot their password’.

As well as selfies, MasterCard’s app supports fingerprint biometrics, offering users a choice of authenticating a mobile payment with either their face or finger at the point of purchase.

To get around attempts to spoof the authentication process by holding up a static photo to the lens the app requires the user to blink to confirm it’s really their face in shot.

Using biometrics for payment authentication have been building momentum since the launch of Apple’s Apple Pay fingerprint-powered system for iPhones and the Apple Watch. Various Android devices also include fingerprint readers, with different payments systems available in Google’s mobile OS ecosystem including Android Pay and Samsung Pay.

And there are some amazing technologies being developed which take biometric security even further including voice, heartbeat and vein recognition. Advancements are also being made in relation to behaviour biometrics, which use the sensors in smartphones to check whether the phone user is the real owner by cross-checking with their usual pattern of eye-hand coordination, whether they are left or right handed, hand tremor, arm size, and muscle usage.

It’s a Gutenburg moment for eCommerce and another giant leap towards a future where shopping is done without the need to go anywhere.