All the crazy ways we’ll pay for things in the not-so-distant future

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Fingerprints, your voice, your face, the pattern of veins in the palm of your hand and even the colored pattern in your iris: All of these are being used in biometrics, the analysis of unique physical characteristics to verify identity. For decades, we watched Bond villains and Hollywood heads of state use these impressively futuristic methods to further their quests for world domination, but today we’re using them to buy coffee. (Take that, Jason Bourne!)

Many of us have already used Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, which both use fingerprint scanners, or Mastercard’s “selfie pay” that uses facial recognition technology, and those forms of payment are here to stay, says Majd Maksad, founder and CEO of Status Money, a personal finance management site. But biometrics are about to get a lot more exciting.

All the crazy ways we’ll pay for things in the not-so-distant future
All the crazy ways we’ll pay for things in the not-so-distant future

“There’s a ton of innovation happening in the space, and we’re starting to see an accelerated pace of development compared to the last decade or so, when plastic has been king. It’s safe to say that the future is now.”

Here’s a look at what’s ahead for the average consumer and how biometrics are going to impact our daily lives even more than they do now.

The biometrics of today are already all around us

The vast majority of people — 86% — are interested in using biometrics to verify their identities to make payments, according to a survey by Visa. Why? People don’t like using passwords. They’re cumbersome and easy to forget, and biometrics can simplify the process, explains Mark Nelsen, senior vice president of Risk Products at Visa.

Right now, biometrics are predominantly being used for mobile payments, both online and in-store. With the in-store method, commonly known as “contactless technology,” your fingerprint unlocks your phone, and you tap your phone on the merchant’s POS (point-of-sale) reader. In an instant, you’ve verified that you’re the genuine owner of the device, and your payment has been sent securely to the merchant, Nelsen explains. Currently, more than 1 million stores in the U.S. have contactless technology.

When you’re online, the same basic process occurs, only there’s no need to tap your phone on a reader, and depending on your device, you can use either facial recognition or your fingerprint to confirm you’re you. In some places, such as Europe and Latin America, users may be “challenged” to confirm their identities by texting in selfies. The next time you enroll as a new customer somewhere (particularly a financial institution, like a bank) you could be asked to sign up with your picture, giving the merchant the confidence that it can always verify you are who you say you are, Nelsen explains.

Those of us with a new iPhone X have probably unlocked our phones 1,000 times without giving much thought to Apple’s facial recognition sensor, “TrueDepth.” The technology uses 30,000 points of infrared light to calculate the exact depth and angle of your facial features. “It’s looking at mathematical equations that measure the distance in points on your face, from your eyes to your lips to your ears,” Nelsen says. “Those dimensions stay the same regardless of what your hair may look like on a given day, or weight loss or weight gain.”

Of course biometrics aren’t only used for purchases. Walt Disney World park-goers are already familiar with the bracelets — “MagicBands”— that serve as as your ticket and track your movements when you’re inside the amusement park, explains Jeff Taylor, founder and managing partner of Digital Risk, a provider of quality control and compliance solutions. The flexible plastic bracelets work with RFID chip technology, and also serve as hotel room keys and as your means of accessing the Fastpass+ “cut-the-line” service.

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