Partnerships / Acquisitions

Alibaba Acquires EyeVerify

Alibaba is on its path to world domination in biotech authentication. Ant Financial, Alibaba’s payments unit, has bought EyeVerify, but the company is following a softly-softly approach by providing Western companies access to Chinese consumers rather than taking on giants Amazon and PayPal directly.

Passwords could soon become a thing of the past if Ant Financial succeeds in its efforts to bring new authentication technology to market. Ant Financial, Alibaba’s payments unit, has bought EyeVerify, which marks its first investment in the U.S. The acquisition will further the firm’s biometric technology, which will be used to authenticate online transactions using pictures of the human eyeball.

Ant Financial is paying a handsome $70 million for EyeVerify, and the company will apply the technology to its own systems first and then later to other products. Ant Financial has already been using EyeVerify’s EyePrint ID on its payment platforms.

Ant Financial has 450 million customers and services spanning online payments, peer-to-peer lending and wealth management funds. All could see this new authentication technology in the future because Ant is not wasting any time.

According to Jason Lu, vice president of fraud risk management at Ant Financial:

“Acquiring a leading company like EyeVerify is a natural step for us to further invest in this very important area, while taking a lead in this area globally. Full integration will allow us to move faster and agile in a way that we can apply the technology in China and globalization strategy in India and places where Alipay will expand into the next few years.”

EyeVerify takes a photo of a user’s eye from the smartphone and examines the eye-vein patterns to create a digital key instead of a complex password. According to EyeVerify, the technology is more than 99.99 percent accurate, making passwords a thing of the past.

Similar biometrics, such as fingerprints and voice recognition, are being used by more than 35 banks and technology companies to protect data. The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone uses iris-reading technology to unlock the phone.

This deal comes on the heels of Alibaba’s investment in Snapchat, mobile search provider Quixey and ride-hailing service Lyft. Ant Financial is taking a sensible approach. It is not taking on Amazon or PayPal directly but is focusing more on providing a conduit for Western companies to reach Chinese consumers.

Ant Financial wants to be accepted by U.S. merchants so that Alipay can be used by Chinese consumers worldwide, and the company is quickly realizing its goals. Alipay is already accepted by more than 70,000 offline retailers in more than 70 countries and regions. Uber agreed earlier this year to support Alipay in more than 400 cities.

The company was valued at $60 billion in its most recent funding round, according to Internet Retailer.

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