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Google testing facial recognition payments on Android and iOS in San Francisco

Thu 3 Mar 2016

Google is running a trial in the South Bay area of San Francisco which lets smartphone users on Android and iOS pay for products via facial recognition, without even removing the phones from their pockets.

In a post at the Google Commerce Blog, Senior Director of Product Management Pali Bhat revealed that the scheme, called Hands Free, has been in beta for some time, and is now being trialled among invited participants to a select number of outlets including McDonald’s, Papa John’s and ‘local eateries’ in the South Bay area. Bhat elaborates:

‘Once you’ve installed and set up the app, Hands Free uses Bluetooth low energy, Wi-Fi, and location services on your phone to detect whether you’re near a participating store. When you’re ready to pay, you can simply tell the cashier, “I’ll pay with Google.” The cashier will ask for your initials and use the picture you added to your Hands Free profile to confirm your identity.’

On what is arguably a slightly creepier note, Bhat also writes that Google is also experimenting with what sounds like constant in-store facial recognition monitoring, presumably to avoid the 3-4 seconds of processing at the till area:

‘This process uses an in-store camera to automatically confirm your identity based on your Hands Free profile picture. All images captured by the Hands Free camera are deleted immediately.’

google-hands-free-ios-androidThe hands free app is available freely at Android here and iOS here, though it won’t avail you anywhere except at those mysterious South Bay outlets.

The initial handful of comments at the download page for the Android app suggests great consumer interest in surrendering their facial IDs to a large corporation in exchange for shaving 15 seconds off a checkout line. The paucity of comments on the iOS app at the moment suggests that the current impetus to get the trial under way is aimed at the Android community, leveraging the Android Pay scheme, which averages 1.5 million new registrations every month in the United States, and offers 2 million locations for its Tap And Pay functionality.

Though there is little elaboration on the matter, the in-store facial recognition scheme presumably has the potential to allow consumers to walk into a store, pick items up and pretty much walk out without shoplifting.

As an extra incentive Google is offering a $5 discount on the user’s first purchase at the participating stores.

AliBaba’s ‘Smile to pay’ facial recognition payment system, debuted at CeBIT a year ago, does involve actually removing your phone from your pocket.

The beta version of Alipay’s FRT system is called ‘Smile to pay’ [Chinese language], and is being developed together with Ant Financial Services (which runs Alipay) and Beijing-based tech company Megvii’s Face++ technology.

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