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MasterCard Using Selfies to Verify Online Purchases

MasterCard announced that MasterCard Identity Check, known colloquially as “selfie pay,” will be launched with help from large banks in the US, UK, Canada, and other European countries over the coming months.

MasterCard announced last October that it was investigating new ways of verifying the identity of its mobile shoppers via such methods as facial recognition and unique heartbeat patterns.

The concept of using biometrics (such as fingerprints and facial scans) to enhance security has been around for a while, but was not widely used by the general public until the iPhone 5 gave users the option to use their fingerprints to unlock their phone instead of a passcode. Users who download the selfie pay app will be able to authenticate their online transactions by snapping a quick photo of themselves using the camera on their phone or tablet.

Like any security system, there will be those who try to bypass it in various ways – one can imagine fraudsters just using a photo of their intended victim to access their accounts. However, MasterCard is one step ahead of them, as they have a fraud-detecting algorithm which requires the users to blink while taking the photo among other undisclosed features.

However, don’t expect to be taking constant selfies while shopping. Ajay Bhalla, MasterCard’s president of enterprise security solutions, told The Verge that the system will only need to be used in certain situations where further authentication is required. According to Bhalla, the security system also checks whether the purchase appears “normal,” revealing that MasterCard “will have a lot of information about your transaction … where are you, where are the goods getting shipped, what is your location.”

MasterCard isn’t stopping with a few photos. Its next step is to explore other alternatives, such as heartbeat recognition. Like fingerprints, everyone has a unique electrical signal produced by their heart, so a future system would use a sensor to read the customer’s electrocardiogram. Trials of this technology were conducted last year with the Nymi bracelet.

Jack Hadfield is a British libertarian writer who just can’t control his cishet white male privilege. You can follow him on Twitter here: @ToryBastard_.

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