It is Ghana, mid afternoon. A family just went out seeking some tools they need to fix the last and newly installed heater. The family’s father came into an old friend’s shop, where he knows he will get the best price for them. After a few minutes talking about daily stuff and how the government dared to pass a controversial law, he gets his wanted tools.
It is then, at that uncomfortable time of having to pay, that the father reaches the pocket of his jeans to grab his wallet. But instead of taking out a wallet, he takes his brand new 10 dollar smartphone. He looks at it and taps a card reader with it. The transaction has been made digitally, in a safe way, and not even one button had to be pressed.
The trick in that hypothetical situation was in his face and in his smartphone. The smartphone, with an integrated frontal camera just scanned the person’s facial features and thus gave him access to his personal bank account. After the phone is unblocked, the NFC and contactless technology will do the rest of the transaction.
This is just one example of how biometrics have the power to change the current financial system providing opportunities to those in developing countries who don’t have access to those services or lacks proper literacy about using technology. That is what Humaniq, a London based start-up thinks of biometrics use. The goal is to break down complex security systems (double e-mail/phone checks, complicated and long passwords, etc). But the upcoming of biometrics might be completely different of that one.
The Edge of the identification
Indeed, the future uses of biometrics could be anything, but all points towards the same route, identification and personal data security. NOVA NEXT online magazine senior editor, Tim De Chant, describes it what he felt about it, not long ago in Boston, USA.
For him “Biometric identification has a faint whiff of the future about it, though what that future looks like depends entirely on your perspective. It could be a dystopian world, often seen in movies, novels, and comic books where Big Brother haunts our heroes, monitoring them through iris scans or facial recognition.”
“Or it could be a sleek and polished future, where speaking an authorization code grants you control of a vehicle or glancing at a camera opens a locked door with a hushed hiss.”
Both are correct and both have issues. Basically, biometrics identification refers to any technology that does one of two things: identifies you or authenticates your identity. For identification, an image is run against a database of images. For authentication, an image has to be accessed from the device to confirm a match. The latter is typically used for unlocking computers, phones, and applications.
It won’t only scan your face features but it would be able to “read” facial expressions, fingerprints and unique parts of your body.
MasterCard, for example, wants to use your heartbeat data to verify purchases. Google’s new Abicus Project plans to monitor your speech patterns, as well as how you walk and type, to confirm that it’s really you on the other end of the smartphone. Other apps are looking at the uniqueness of vascular patterns in the eyes or even a person’s specific gait to verify identities.
Your uniqueness is yours
Even though it is thought to be one of the most secured access in the near future thanks to a high speed developing technology, biometrics have some security breaches. One of the principal is the possibility of your public and seen-by-others parts of your bodies being exposed constantly and, therefore, an increased danger of hacking.
Alvaro Bedoya, Professor of Law at Georgetown University, argues in an article the following.“I do know what your ear looks like, if I meet you, and I can take a high resolution photo of it from afar,” says Bedoya. “I know what your fingerprint looks like if we have a drink and you leave your fingerprints on the pint glass.” And that makes them easy to hack. Or track.
And here is when we have to come back to what Tim De chant, from NOVA NEXT, was scared of. The rapidly spread of biometrics can transform the future into a massive Big Brother society. Police and governments have started to use it long ago as the best proved way of identification. On the other hand, at the same time, thanks to a new speed up in this technology, our unique features will be ours no more as it will be recorded in databases to be biometrically scanned.
This is why companies and governments should act with responsibility. Biometrics could help people all around the world, as Humaniq is trying to do, or it could become a weapon of control in the wrong hands. We are in that crucial moment where the right thing can still be done.
Thought leadership series on new trends and blockchain, powered by Humaniq.
Launched in 2016, Humaniq aims to provide mobile finance to the 2 billion unbanked population through its mobile app for good, that uses biometric authentication to replace traditional methods of ID and security. Humaniq’s open source stack and API will be available for startups and other businesses to build services on its core technology, making it easy to adapt their service and plug it into Humaniq’s network to reach a huge, untapped audience.
Hernaldo Turrillo is a freelance journalist working now for IntelligentHQ. Hernaldo was born in Spain and finally settled in London, United Kingdom, after a few years of personal growth. Hernaldo finished his Journalism bachelor degree in the University of Seville, Spain, and began working as reporter in the newspaper, Europa Sur, writing about Politics and Society. He also worked as community manager and marketing advisor in Los Barrios, Spain. Innovation, technology, politics and economy are his main interests, with special focus on new trends and ethical projects. He enjoys finding himself getting lost in words, explaining what he understands from the world and helping others. He was born journalist and became a thinker. Knowledge has no limits.