JD.com and Alibaba upgrade mobile payment with facial recognition
Alibaba's founder and chairman Jack Ma demonstrated Ant Financial's "Smile to Pay" function during the 2015 CEBIT exhibition in Hanover. Photo: image.baidu.com
 
China’s e-commerce giants JD.com and Alibaba have begun to use facial recognition technology in their offline payments recently, signaling their efforts to further refresh mobile payment experience after successful launch of applications including cell phone NFC and D bar code scanning.
    
Ant Financial, the affiliate financial service of Alibaba that is linked to Taobao and Tmall, launched “Smile to Pay” function on its Alipay application at a new KFC restaurant in Hangzhou on September 1, known to be the first in the world to put face recognition technology into commercial use. Jingdong Finance, the financial arm of JD.com, started to test a similar scan-face-to-pay system in Jingdong Home, the offline outlets of JD.com from late August. 
 
The technology remains untapped by IT companies in the US, because the US has been tightening rules on collection of biometric data. China, with a huge population and widespread use of mobile Internet technology, however has built itself up as the world’s most aggressive developer and tester of new applications.  
 
According to Ant Financial’s promotional video, the “Smile to Pay” function is fully insured and could correctly identify payers even when they wear heavy makeup or change hair or outfit. Jingdong Finance says its facial recognition scan will take only two seconds and could guarantee an accuracy rate of 99.99 percent. 
 
Payment without cell phone   
 
Jingdong Finance requires shoppers to first take a selfie and then upload it to register the service. Before making the payment, the last four digits of shopper’s registered cell phone number would be typed in. And the last step is to scan the face for the system to do automatch and go through authentication. The amount paid will be deducted from the shopper’s JD.com account.  
 
The Alipay process is similar. The only difference is that the face scan registration part could be saved because when people register for an Alipay account, their Identification Card with photo would be uploaded for record.
 
So, features like “Smile to Pay” could relieve shoppers of mobile payment dependent on a hardware device. Before this, both phone NFC and D bar code scanning required use of a cell phone. Now, imagine what people can do when their cell phones are out of battery—they just need to scan their face to make instant offline payment.
 
The “Smile to Pay” function is built on the Face++ technology developed by Megvii, an IT startup based in Beijing. It’s still not known if the facial recognition used by Jingdong Finance also uses Face++, although a JD.com management source has said their new technology would be upgraded soon after collecting more feedback from users. JD.com is now engaged in R&D of palm, voice, and even iris print recognition in bid to upgrade payment experiences, according to media reports.
 
The South China Morning Post reported earlier that an airport in Nanyang city, central China’s Henan province, has check-in system featuring boarding pass facilitated by a facial recognition system developed by Baidu, China’s search engine giant. Similar plans are in works for the Beijing International Airport. 
 
It is predicted that Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, biometric identification and Artificial Intelligence technologies would all be blended into the applications for offline retailing and allowing shoppers access to more different and refreshing shopping experience.  

 


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