As the pandemic slowed down and more vaccines are rolling up, we are finally seeing live events making a comeback, and with some surprising technology like face id too!

One of the world’s most prominent entertainment producers, ASM Global embraces facial verification payments for some of its biggest event venues (1).

The launch came as part of a collaboration between ASM and PopID, and they aim to leverage advanced facial verifications at locations like theaters and stadiums worldwide. Despite skepticism around biometric identification and facial recognition technology being used to power global surveillance, the development has come (2). Last year, the company had also partnered with a robotic pizza vendor Piestro (3).

PopID has capitalized on the pandemic’s spike in interest in contactless payments to establish itself as a top facial recognition provider for commerce.

Meanwhile, ASM Global’s Venue Innovation Lab has worked on biometric advancements. Both organizations want to bill biometric identification as a convenience and experience-enhancing technology, so they forged this partnership.

“We are ideally positioned to develop industry-leading innovation with best-in-class partners because of the breadth and depth of our global knowledge and resources,” says ASM Global CEO and President Ron Bension (4). “With PopID’s innovative solutions and services, we’ll be able to improve future event experiences further, ensuring that every guest engagement is safe, quick, and flawless.”

PopID’s connected infrastructure, which includes payments, interfaces, and point-of-sale connections, is valuable to behemoths like ASM. One of the technology’s first applications will most likely offer VIP attendees a more curated event experience.

“We’re thrilled to join forces with ASM and take the first steps toward genuinely revolutionizing the future event experience with highly secure, phone-free entry and digital transactions.” John Miller, CEO of PopID and Chairman of the Cali Group (5).

“Customers who sign up for our platform will be able to enter the venue by asking for facial verification at the entrance, rather than using a QR code on their phone. At concession booths, guests will be able to ‘check in’ with facial recognition at the point of sale, quickly view personalized food and beverage suggestions, and order and pay without the use of IDs, bank cards, or smartphones,” added Miller.

Pechanga Arena in San Diego will serve as an early testbed. In collaboration with concessionaire Levy Restaurants, fans will validate tickets and pay for food and beverages. Other ASM Global locations would likely follow suit.

While similar technology is already in use in China, people worldwide will have to pick either convenience or privacy in the coming years.

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Paying with Our Faces

With contactless payments becoming more popular amid the pandemic, PopID launched its facial recognition-based payment system at a handful of restaurants near its HQ in Pasadena, USA, including mom-and-pop shops like Daddy’s Chicken Shack and local chains including Lemonade.

Here is how it works: individuals register on their phones, take selfies, and deposit money into their Pop Pay accounts using a credit card or bank account. When it’s time to pay, customers glance into the camera of a PopID touchscreen or kiosk (no need to smile), the cashier validates their identity, and money is paid from their account (6).

Customers find the experience eerily flawless, and restaurants find the service quick and inexpensive, assuming that people sign up for it. Easier ordering can reduce wait times, and PopID charges less per transaction than other payment processors or credit card providers.

Notably, major shops such as Albertsons, Macy’s, and Apple Stores are currently using facial biometrics for security purposes (7).

In addition, more than 100 million people signed up for a similar face payment system in China in 2019 after 7-Eleven installed it in numerous locations, tech giant Alipay is launching face payments across the nation, and pedestrians in the southern city of Guiyang have been apt to pay their bus ticket using their faces since July.

With one billion users apiece, Alipay and WeChat Pay are at the forefront of the movement.

However, PopID’s system is the first to go live in the United States, where authorities and privacy advocates scrutinize face recognition technology.

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Privacy Concerns

These systems can scan and even store facial images of both workers and shoppers. The use of facial recognition systems was accelerated during the pandemic as retailers looked for new ways to prevent fraud, offer contactless payments, and track foot traffic with fewer employees.

In response, at least 35 advocacy groups have launched campaigns to pressure retailers not to use or stop using facial recognition technologies.

“Facial recognition companies are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to advance the technology to offer hands-free payments or monitor the distance between people, and stores are promoting them as safety and convenience features,” said Caitlin Seeley George, campaign director for Fight for the Future, the organization that spearheaded the campaign (8).

“However, the truth is that you are giving up a lot more than that,” she explained.

According to the advocacy groups’ ongoing list, Walmart, Kroger, Home Depot, and Target declared they would not utilize facial recognition technologies (9).

However, it also suggests that Albertson’s, Macy’s, and Apple Stores are among the major shops that use the technologies. According to their privacy policies, they use it for security and fraud prevention.

According to studies, it is also worth noting that facial recognition technology has been demonstrated to be considerably less accurate at correctly identifying nonwhite and female faces than white male faces.

According to their privacy regulations, it is used for security and fraud prevention. A Black New York man recently sued Apple after the facial recognition security system mistook him as a shoplifter (10).

There are several other ways retailers could use this technology, including:

  • Identifying loyalty club members the moment they walk into a business so that they can receive push notifications and text messages about bargains and products they’re probably interested in.
  • Knowing how long a consumer spends in the store allows you to personalize their experience on future visits.
  • Employers can use biometric systems to clock in and out, tracking where they are and measuring productivity. According to advocates, employees do not have the option to opt-out, which is concerning.

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The Counter Argument

Just because a store has a camera does not mean it identifies or keeps specific faces. Companies also claim that the technology can improve in-store experiences in other ways.

They argue that facial recognition technology is more advanced in stadiums, amusement parks, and cruise ships. Crowds are monitored, disruptive guests are located, guests can be identified for priority access to rides or restaurants, and offers can be sent to their phones or wristbands.

But the fact that some industries, including retail, are experimenting with biometric technologies to detect sweat on people’s skin, interpret facial expressions, and detect elevated heart rate is what we find concerning.

“Are they going to try to sell them a sleep aid if someone walks into a medicine store and they can see that the individual looks stressed or worried?” Leong stated. “Without the person’s knowledge, a store could take advantage of their emotional state. There is a serious power disparity there.”

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The Way Forward

iPhone owners can utilize Face ID to authenticate Apple Pay transactions personally (11).

According to Juniper Research in the United Kingdom, Biometric authentication will protect 2.5 trillion USD in mobile transactions by 2024. It is an increase of over 1000% compared to 228 billion USD estimated to be transacted via the system by the end of 2019 (12).

Meanwhile, for privacy considerations, dozens of advocacy groups in the United States and Europe have advocated for a ban on facial recognition technology (13).

The signatories identified technologies that could obstruct access to healthcare, social security, or justice, as well as systems that make predictions about peoples’ thoughts and behaviors, and algorithms capable of manipulating individuals, pose a threat to human dignity, agency, and collective democracy.

At the same time, technology advocates remain positive that Face ID “false positives” that result in inaccurate account charges and other inaccuracies could be avoided in the next five years as the technology advances.

If we can successfully implement this technology, the new touchless future could threaten the jobs of millions of cashiers. At the same time, it could also streamline the shopping experience for people to opt-in.

In that case, the 30 million individuals who visit ASM Global events each year may choose to mug for the camera instead of bringing their wallets. If customers prefer convenience above privacy, biometric payments might spread to airports, businesses, grocery stores, and drive-thrus.

But we can never be sure who is watching what we look like, what we purchase, where we go shopping, and it can all lead to increased privacy concerns, call for more transparency, or the ability to opt-out.

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