Eyes As The Window To The (Secure) Digital Soul

After 36 years, eye-based biometrics is more than a buzzword — it’s gaining currency in the payments world. In the latest Data Drivers, Karen Webster sat down with EyeVerify CEO Toby Rush to discover why now, finally, when it comes to data security … the eyes may finally have it.


Eye think we’ll have a few puns — when it comes to biometrics, wordplay can be visionary, and payments innovation is within sight.

Ba dum tss.

But perhaps the time has come to take another glance at eye-based biometrics — fittingly, the focus of the latest installment of Data Drivers with the CEO and founder of EyeVerify, Toby Rush.

In this week’s episode, Karen Webster and Rush dug into three data points which tell the story of how the eyes have it when it comes to authenticating a consumer to transact digitally.

Data Point Number One: 36

That’s the number of years, give or take, that eye-based biometrics have been around, and yet, as Webster noted, the last year or so has seen widespread recognition and interest — a level of visibility (no pun intended).

Rush attributed the heightened interest to the convergence of several mega-themes. One of those mega-themes, he said, has been using the mobile phone in more ways than just making a call — accessing bank accounts and a variety of data that would have historically been very sensitive.

And to access that data, Rush continued, apps have emerged (another trend), and devices can access and work with images and features that they weren’t able to in the past. Since the iPhone debuted nearly a decade ago, he explained, “we have come light-years” in terms of capabilities in both hardware and software in phones. At the same time, demand for applications (and the use of those applications) have increased across the devices themselves. Rush said that biometrics uses the increased capability of those devices to secure and make the applications and features more accessible and convenient — and, of course, more secure.

Continuing the discussion on technology, Webster asked if the cameras of today are indeed sharp enough to capture the minutiae of today’s eyeballs — so much so that authentication is a reliable and precise process. Rush stated that there have been advances in video and imaging as tied to biometrics. He added that the chemistry and physiology of the human body does not change so much that eye-based biometrics can be rendered less useful, said Rush, adding that, for this biometric technology, “there is a lot of stability baked in.”

The key is being able to extract information from video and imaging, he said. The optics of the camera and the software are able enough to deliver the information needed for accurate matching at 99.998 percent accuracy.

Which brings us to…

Data Point Number Two: 51

This is the number of financial institutions that are giving this eye-centered biometric approach a try. They are interested in this technology for authentication because, as Rush noted, these firms are able to engage users on their mobile devices — “they get more trust points, they get more awareness, they get better opportunities to … offer more services to the user … via mobile.” And eliminate one of the biggest pain points in using the devices — the password. The financial institution has an interest in making the user experience easier and more fluid, said Rush. “The consumer — and the FI — gets the convenience of a selfie with the security of an eye biometric,” he added.

Beyond the unlocking feature of eye-based biometrics, the question arises: What about payments? These cases, said Rush, extend beyond mobile banking to mobile payments, to mobile remittances, to ATMs. The user experience must be simple, he said, and not be confined to actions or processes that are unfamiliar — hence the appeal and speed of a selfie-like process.

Data Point Number Three: 450 Million

The final data point, 450 million, said Webster, represents the number of Alipay users, which, in turn, translates into hundreds of millions of eyeballs. The relevance to EyeVerify is simple: Alipay’s parent company acquired EyeVerify in Sept. 2016. Rush explained that Ant Financial and Alibaba both have been focused on making inroads into the “bottom 70 percent” of financial services users, which will ultimately prove to be as valuable as the top 5 percent of the population. They believe that it’s possible to bring 2 billion users onto its platform within the next 10 years, a disproportionate user base of mobile banking and other tech-based platforms, said Rush, in China, India and beyond.

Rush noted that Alibaba’s own planning is beyond long-term in nature — so much so that the firm looks ahead 100 years, which dovetails with its long-range plan to capture the hearts, minds and eyes of those 70 percent of potential, as-yet-untapped users. That’s an anomaly in a world when other firms look out a year or even a quarter.

Talk about keeping your eyes on the prize.