The first six months of 2022 are now in the books. That means that it’s the perfect time to take another look at the state of the facial recognition industry. What does the technology look like at the halfway point of 2022? How has it changed since the end of 2021?
Today, we answer those questions with a roundup of the five biggest trends that are now defining the facial recognition space. Keep reading to learn more about what you can expect to see in the back half of the year!
Coming for Crypto
One of the most noteworthy trends comes from the world of cryptocurrency, where facial recognition is becoming an increasingly popular security measure. Several exchanges have already partnered with companies like iDenfy and Onfido to integrate facial recognition into their remote onboarding processes, and governments are steadily ramping up their regulatory efforts.
In that regard, lawmakers are suggesting that crypto holdings should be linked to someone’s real-world identity, with some arguing that that should be carried out through the use of facial biometrics. That movement is significant because it cuts to the core of crypto’s appeal. Alternative currencies have become popular with a particular segment of tech enthusiasts precisely because they exist outside of the traditional political and financial infrastructure. There is no centralized authority overseeing the system, nor is there a government to report to.
The use of biometric identification would effectively put an end to that state of affairs. Crypto holdings would no longer be anonymous, and would be subject to the same regulatory and taxation apparatus as other assets.
Biometric identification would almost certainly make it easier to combat ransomware and other kinds of fraud, a fact that is driving the current shift. The question is whether or not consumers will stick with crypto once the digital wild west has been settled.
The Police Balancing Act
That particular detail has generated massive pushback, and created more grassroots momentum for facial recognition bans in 2021. Privacy advocates have repeatedly stated that the police should not have unregulated access to surveillance tech, and have been rewarded with a growing (if patchwork) regulatory framework.
The first six months of 2022, on the other hand, have seen things move back in the opposite direction. Some jurisdictions that passed bans in 2021 have tried to walk them back, while others (like Virginia) have replaced hard bans with more nuanced bills that allow the police to use facial recognition in select cases or under certain conditions.
Those kinds of restrictions are likely to become the norm moving forward. Efforts to repeal laws would seem to indicate that there is a backlash to the backlash, but the truth is that lawmakers and law enforcement are getting closer to some kind of consensus. Lawmakers have acknowledged that the technology is useful. At the same time, even those who have argued in favor of the police use of facial recognition have acknowledged that there needs to be a degree of oversight and accountability when using such an invasive technology.
Don’t Make it Mandatory
There is a similar back-and-forth happening in the biometric onboarding space. 2021 was a boom year for face-based identity solutions, with billions of dollars in funding getting funnelled to start-ups working on products that could support remote authentication during the pandemic.
Those solutions have proven to be popular in the private sector. Consumers do not necessarily need to use any given service, and can choose whether or not they want to move forward with a company that requires biometric registration.
The same is not true in the public sector, where people need to go through the government in order to gain access to certain essential services. That came to a head at the beginning of the year when the IRS announced that it would be requiring biometric identity verification with ID.me for everyone trying to pay taxes through its online portal.
The IRS has since walked back that decision in response to vociferous pushback from the public and federal lawmakers. Both the IRS and ID.me have tried to emphasize their non-biometric identity verification options, but ID.me is still facing federal scrutiny and it’s unclear if the company’s manual onboarding service will be enough to counter the critics.
The controversy demonstrates that the public is not quite ready for a fully biometric ecosystem. Platforms like Face ID and Windows Hello have made people more comfortable with biometric authentication. However, there are some who still prefer an analog process, and others who may not have access to the computer or smartphone needed in a digital-only environment. Public agencies need to support legacy solutions to ensure that their services remain accessible. Private companies can be more selective, but may want to keep technology and comfort levels in mind if they want to reach the largest possible customer base.
Of course, no business wants to be left behind. Some of the largest companies in the world are pushing for innovation, even if a few individual stragglers are not yet ready to embrace those new technologies.
That trend is particularly evident in the payments space, where Mastercard has unveiled a new Biometric Checkout Program that will allow people to link their face biometrics to their payment information. That, in turn, will allow them to complete purchases with only a facial recognition scan at the point of sale.
Naked payments (including face-based payments) have been around for several years, though those programs have typically operated at a smaller scale. The Mastercard news is significant because it indicates that one of the biggest payment providers in the world (and one of the industry’s main standard-bearers) is ready to throw its full weight behind biometric payments. That could help normalize the technology and lead to the widespread adoption of naked payment tech, in the same way that Face ID normalized face authentication for a generation.
In all likelihood, that sea change will not take place for a few more years. The movement nevertheless seems to be underway. Mastercard is already gearing up for naked payment trials with multiple technology partners all over the world, and it will only be a matter of time before biometrics takes its place alongside cash, credit, and the mobile wallet as one of the primary payment options available to consumers.
The Key to Your Account
The push toward face-based payments also hints at our last major trend of 2022. The companies that are adding face-based onboarding to their mobile apps are now using that as the foundation for a more comprehensive digital identity experience, in which facial recognition can be used after onboarding to gain access to a range of other services.
That trend is most pronounced in the hospitality industry, where people can now book a hotel, and then check in on a smartphone before they arrive. They can then use face biometrics to pay for food at a restaurant, or for goods at any other establishment that is part of the broader hospitality chain. Any charges are tied to that person’s account, which in turn allows consumers to move about and access services without needing to carry an identity or a payment card.
That model can be extended to other industries, including retail. For example, a facial recognition scan at checkout ensures that any purchases are automatically registered to a loyalty account, and supports a more personalized customer experience.
In each case, facial recognition is being used beyond the account creation process to streamline other services for end users. That convenience, coupled with the opt-in nature of those services, is likely to make them more popular over time, even if people are still wary of facial recognition in other situations.
July 7, 2022 – by Eric Weiss