Tech giant shows off software for buying goods using your face

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba predicts facial recognition will be the next big thing in online payments.

Alibaba accounts for 80 percent of online sales in China. Image: Alibaba
The CEO of e-commerce giant Alibaba has demoed software that will allow shoppers to pay for online goods using their face.

Jack Ma took to the stage at the CeBIT show in Hannover, Germany on Sunday night to demonstrate the new payment system called Smile to Pay, which captures your likeness using a tablet or smartphone camera and runs it through a facial recognition system.

Ma showed himself buying a commemorative stamp using a smartphone. After clicking a 'buy' button, he was taken to the facial recognition app, which required him to position his face inside an outline so the front-facing video camera could capture it.

It took just under 10 seconds to confirm his identity and he hit a 'confirm' button to buy the item.

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"Online payment to buy things is always a big headache - you forget your password, worry about security. Today I'll show you a new technology of how people can buy things online in the future," Ma told the conference.

The system, which is currently in beta, has been developed by Alibaba Group affiliate Ant Financial for use with the Alipay online payment service, as well as Alipay Wallet.

Ma didn't say there was an upper limit on the price of items that could be bought using the system but the stamp he bought cost €20.

Biometrics are gradually becoming accepted as a way of approving online and offline payments, with the Apple Pay service allowing people to buy goods using a fingerprint scanner on recent versions of the iPhone and iPad. More than 2,500 banks and 700,000 shops and other retail points now accept Apple Pay.

But there are fallibilities in such biometric payment systems, with hackers demonstrating successful attacks against fingerprint readers in Apple iPhone 5s and the Samsung Galaxy S5.

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