Consumers Embrace Facial Biometrics as Lawmakers Raise Fresh Privacy Concerns

As biometric authentication, and notably facial recognition technology, continues its rapid advancement, heightened concerns about privacy and ethical implications have reignited global discourse. 

This conversation gained momentum when China introduced draft regulations this summer, aimed at imposing limitations on facial recognition. Following suit, the United States has emerged as the latest to join the trend, aligning with similar measures aimed at addressing the ethical and privacy dimensions of this transformative innovation.

In a bipartisan effort, U.S. senators have introduced legislation to put an end to involuntary facial recognition screening at airports, The Hill reported last week. The proposed Travelers’ Privacy Protection Act (TPPA) aims to repeal the authorization of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to use facial recognition screening at airports, citing concerns about privacy and the storage of travelers’ biometric data.

According to lawmakers, the TSA scans thousands of Americans’ faces without their permission daily, highlighting the need to protect citizens from such intrusive practices.

The TSA had previously announced a pilot facial recognition program at 16 airports across the country. And while the agency maintained that participation in the program was voluntary, critics raised concerns about the potential misuse of the technology and the collection of personal data.

Under the pilot program, travelers would place their driver’s license into a slot or press their passport photo against a card reader. They would then look into a camera on a screen, which takes a photo of their face and compares it to their ID photo.

The introduction of this bipartisan U.S. legislation follows similar efforts in the United Kingdom, where a group of 65 British lawmakers called for an immediate ban on live facial recognition surveillance on U.K. streets by both the police and private companies in October. 

These developments highlight the growing concerns around the world regarding the use of facial recognition technology and its impact on privacy and civil liberties.

But despite these concerns, a significant number of U.S. consumers continue to embrace biometric authentication tools. According to a study conducted by PYMNTS Intelligence and AWS, more than half of consumers who completed online purchases used biometric authentication to validate their transactions. 

These include facial recognition and fingerprint scans, the two most popular biometric methods adopted by 28% and 49% of consumers, respectively. The study also revealed that nearly 60% of facial recognition users use the method more than once weekly.

This consumer interest in biometrics has led to more retailers embracing facial recognition technology. Last month, Mastercard and NEC announced they were joining forces to bring biometric checkout to the Asia Pacific region, where 82% of consumers use at least one form of biometrics already, with the average consumer reporting they use three types, per Mastercard data.

The partnership, announced Nov. 14, combines NEC’s facial recognition and liveness verification technology with Mastercard’s payment operations to help consumers speed through in-store checkout, PYMNTS reported

“As retailing environments continue to evolve and choices in ways to pay rapidly expand, biometric solutions offer a seamless, quick and secure checkout, without needing to unlock a phone or insert a PIN,” Ajay Bhalla, president, Cyber and Intelligence Solutions, Mastercard, said in a news release.

Prior to that in February, French retail giant Carrefour, which is operated as a franchise by Majid Al Futtaim in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), announced that it had teamed up with Network International and biometric technology firm PopID to roll out the latter’s facial biometric verification platform in the country.

Shoppers at Carrefour’s Deira and Amsaf outlets can now sign up for this service through the retailer’s mobile app or website and complete their purchases by smiling at a payment terminal instead of using their card or phone, the company noted in a press release.

“Face verification will make it easier and more convenient for our customers to check out efficiently — without having to reach for their wallets,”  Bernardo Perloiro, chief operating officer, GCC at Majid Futtaim Retail, said at the time.