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Warning: Don’t use your face as a credit card

by surfsidefinance
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MasterCard wants you to start swiping your face to pay. by CNBC (opens in new window) MasterCard’s new program will let consumers link their credit cards to biometric identifiers: “At checkout, users will be able to verify their payments by showing their face or palm instead of swiping their cards.”

This is a bad idea. Facial recognition systems are neither particularly useful nor respectful of your privacy.

Less offensive, but still disgusting, is the idea of effectively turning your body into a credit card. Credit systems are predatory enough, but tying your debt to your body is pretty inhumane. Most offensive is the continued socialization and adoption of facial recognition, a technology that is inherently dangerous to society and useless to individuals, making it the worst idea in the history of consumer technology.

CNBC also reported that MasterCard’s plan would somehow allow you to make payments and verify NFT ownership in a metaverse – the third and second worst ideas in technology, respectively.

Don’t become a credit card
In general, there are two big problems with facial recognition. First, there’s no good way to communicate intent. This is a real problem when using your face to unlock your phone, because you can simply pick up your phone (or someone else picks up your phone) to unlock it whether you want to or not. The same is true for shopping. Of course, the work has already been done (opens in a new window) to solve this problem, but there is a world of difference between choosing to enter a PIN or show your fingerprint and looking directly at the machine.

Facial recognition is inherently dangerous to society and useless to individuals, making it the worst idea in the history of consumer technology
To buy something with a credit card, you have to hold your card out, have the point-of-sale machine interact with it in some way, and then enter your PIN or sign the receipt. It is very difficult to accidentally run your card through a machine. Even assuming that the MasterCard process will have a verification process, such as entering a PIN or clicking a confirmation box, the fact that simply showing your face will start the payment process is concerning. It’s not secure, and not only that, it’s poorly designed.

The second problem with facial recognition is more abstract but more pressing: widespread adoption of facial recognition will make people more willing to accept constant monitoring and tracking on a large scale. We have seen some of these before, with unfamiliar or suspect technologies being adopted without addressing valid issues. Despite the privacy concerns, home DNA testing remains popular, and while we’ve seen improvements in privacy controls in free apps and services, almost all of them still rely on collecting your personal data.

This is also happening with facial recognition, which Apple has (confusingly) made the default option on its flagship iPhone, and Microsoft has made it the Windows Hello sign-in solution. It’s now common to encourage and even require travelers to scan their faces at airports (even though it’s allegedly optional).

We should be concerned about its normalization because facial recognition is uniquely invasive. It allows many people to be monitored at the same time without their knowledge. Fingerprinting a large group of people is not easy or subtle. However, powerful facial recognition can not only identify people without their knowledge, but also track their interactions with each other and things around them.

This is a problem for government mass surveillance, but it’s not much better for companies to do it. We already know that retailers are keen to track shoppers in their stores. Imagine how much data could be collected by tracking who shoppers interact with or building social maps based on who they interact with. I distinctly remember a Google patent for technology that tracks pupil dilation (opening in a new window) interactions, trying to guess how people react to ads and to each other. These ideas aren’t new, they’re just waiting to be implemented.

PSA: You can say no to facial scans when boarding planes

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Widespread adoption of facial recognition will make people more willing to accept constant surveillance and tracking on a large scale.

Nothing in the report on MasterCard’s new program suggests such a high level of surveillance, but mentions loyalty programs, which are often just a good way to show you’re being tracked. Similarly, the article from CNBC refers to the hope that biometric payment systems will be available worldwide.

Mastercard says the feature could be combined with a loyalty program and provide personalized recommendations based on previous purchases.

Stop trying to do facial recognition
For now, Mastercard’s face payment solution is only available in São Paulo, Brazil, but it is likely to be rolled out. This means there is a rare opportunity to oppose this effort. The facial recognition story is still up in the air, if at all, and the caution in rolling it out into consumer products suggests the company isn’t sure it’s a safe bet just yet.

So, say no to facial scanning. Opt out at the airport. Use your fingerprint or password to unlock your phone. Shun FaceID. Pass Windows Hello and use a security key instead. When you see a company or government insisting that facial recognition is private and secure, speak up. If poor consumer acceptance can stop BetaMax tapes and MiniDisc, then surely we can make facial recognition so toxic that the mere mention of it will get people riled up.

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