When maturity of browsers in the late 1990s was making websites more than digital posters, and getting us all into ecommerce, a constant refrain was that it was not advisable to put one’s credit card details online—fraudsters might start using your credit card.
Today, due to advancement in secure network connection between browsers and servers and credit card companies underwriting any fraudulent transactions, we willingly enter our credit card details on many online sites and cannot imagine not having that convenience. And online retailers also cannot imagine not having that fluidity of commerce. Always, where there are concerns about security, value and convenience to customers seems to win it.
Today’s recurring debate is with authentication, in particular, facial authentication, or “fauth.” There are many instances when service providers need to validate who we are and be able to do it quickly and without passing of “government-issued IDs” which seems to be the “gold standard.” However, if a transaction is happening online or needs to be done without burdening the customer with having these physical IDs in their possession, an easier authentication is needed. In addition, these “gold standards” themselves need to be authenticated because they are easily faked. So, authenticating a person by inspecting their IDs is simply moving the problem from the person to authenticating the “government-issued IDs,” Why not authenticate the person directly?
Facial authentication is a very convenient mechanism to provide quick, convenient authentication with full consent. All the concerns around facial recognition, in particular around misidentification by law enforcement, is a legitimate concern. However, Fauth is being used gingerly even when the customer is providing full consent in exchange for convenience and speed of transaction, etc.
Covid-19 has accelerated Fauth because there is a need to authenticate someone without touching anything or inspecting documents like a driver’s license. Access into buildings by opening a turnstile or a gate simply by having people look to a camera and be instantly authenticated is much more convenient than having to swipe, tap a keycard or, worse, stand in line to show your government-issued ID to a security guard who is looking to process people quickly and isn’t really looking to fully authenticate the ID.
Loyalty programs and retail transactions could make payments linked with a customer securely and automatically, without even getting payments (cash/credit card/loyalty card, etc.) produced—your face can “make the payment.”
During these challenging public health times, as increasing testing for Covid-19 or other maladies become more frequent, these “health transactions” must be executed with full and secure authentication. Test result of one person linked to another person can spell disaster for the people and for public health at large.
In addition, increasingly more customers will willingly provide registration images to various vendors and services simply for the convenience. Our digital facial likeness is already in the wild—either by our own involvement in social media or by a multitude of government and various regulatory bodies requiring our faces for various government documents. Therefore, not using my face for Fauth is not preserving my privacy—my absolute privacy of facial likeness is long gone. In fact, I’d much rather have important transactions be authenticated fully using my face so that my physical credit card or passport is not misused by fraudsters.
Just like the credit card quandary online melted away, one can relate to the improved convenience of transactions at toll booths in the last 2 decades. From the early days when car owners paid to have transponders in their vehicles in order to speed up their commute, to today where license plates can be scanned and the car’s owner billed for the convenience, we’ve seen the shift in behavior. As a people, we are attracted to decreasing friction in our daily lives and avoiding having to roll the car window down, find exact change, and pay a toll in frigid winter weather, making this a prime target for authenticated automation that comes by way of the transponder or license plate.
Fauth will go the same way as credit cards online and car tolls—the convenience is too great. And the risks to the customer is very limited. Fauth will be increasingly the mechanism of reliable, easy, fast, person authentication going forward.