04/11/2016 11:49 EDT | Updated 04/12/2017 05:12 EDT

Biometric Payments Are Coming To Canada (And That's Great)

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We're an increasingly connected society. From fridges that know when you're running low on milk, to apps that count every step taken, the convergence of real and digital life is no longer the stuff of science fiction movies. In fact, biometrics, or the use of a person's unique physiological characteristics for identity verification, are already likely a part of your daily life.

Biometrics were first introduced to Canadians on a wide scale in 2009, with Passport Canada using facial recognition technology to weed out duplicate and fraudulent passports. Today, border officials screen fingerprints and digital photos of those entering Canada on a daily basis.

However, biometrics aren't just for travelers. Have you been to a theme park recently? Major operators including Six Flags, Universal Studios, Disney and SeaWorld have embraced fingerprint technology in the place of physical tickets to speed up admission. And even if you aren't a travelling rollercoaster fanatic, chances are you have a smartphone, and the vast majority of smartphones manufactured after 2013 utilize fingerprints as an unlocking mechanism.

Consumers have embraced biometrics, particularly as a password replacement -- and it's easy to see why. Think about how many passwords you use in a day. To get into your office or to punch in at work, there's one. To unlock your computer, there's two. Then to shop at your favorite eCommerce store, to log in to your email, to access your online banking -- you get the idea.

Studies have shown that on average, we have to enter passwords eight times per day for the 10 different online accounts or applications we regularly use every week. You could use the same password for each, putting you at increased risk for fraud, or you have to rely on your memory for longer or more complex passwords. It's of little wonder that a recent MasterCard survey found that 53 per cent of shoppers forget crucial passwords more than once a week, losing on average 10 minutes when they reset their accounts.


The better way is biometrics -- especially when it comes to payments. Security must be the core of any transaction you make, whether in a store, on your mobile phone or from your tablet. There is no better proof that you are who you say you are than your own one-of-a-kind characteristics, such as your fingerprint or your face.

The possibilities for the use of biometrics in payments are just starting to be realized but we think biometric payment technology will be commonplace within the next few years. The MasterCard Identity Check Mobile app will allow users to complete online purchases by scanning a fingerprint or in a Canadian first, snapping a selfie. It is currently being piloted by BMO Financial Group with corporate cardholders following successful pilots in the U.S. and Netherlands. This summer, we'll be making available it more broadly across Canada.

Concerned someone could fake an image? There's already a solution in place. Look at the camera, ensure your face is inside the designated area and blink. Liveness detection notifies the app that it's looking at a live person and not just a photo. Once the app verifies it's you, your online transaction is set to complete. In other words, you (and your unique biometric features) are the password.

The time is right for biometric technology because of how we use our mobile devices, which are increasingly sophisticated and capable of fingerprint technology, front-facing cameras and the ability to pay with just a tap of the phone. More than ever, we're shopping on the go, using our smartphone to purchase everything from groceries to electronics to concert tickets. Biometric authentication will help to make purchases faster and more convenient for you. Which will leave you more time to share selfies on your favorite social network.

Catherine Murchie is Senior Vice President of North America Processing, Enterprise Security & Network Solutions at MasterCard with responsibility for integrating services and solutions that help keep our customers' systems safe and secure.

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