MasterCard begins letting card owners authorize purchases with a selfie

A picture is worth one thousand words—and pretty soon it’ll be worth your identity, too. MasterCard announced this week that it will begin letting people verify purchases using selfies.

The “selfie pay” feature is part of MasterCard’s growing effort to implement biometric identity checks, which can reduce credit-card fraud and identity theft by raising the barrier of impersonation.

The new security system is part of the MasterCard Identity Check app, which bypasses passwords in favor of more secure biometric data. For now, that means either snapping a selfie or registering a fingerprint, but MasterCard plans to explore other options, including heart rate monitoring and iris scanning, in the future.

In a demonstration of the app, MasterCard showed someone making a purchase on their laptop. When it came time to complete the order, the website sent a prompt to the person’s smartphone. The buyer then confirmed the purchase and proved their identity by looking into the phone’s camera.

To make it impossible for someone to fool the feature with a photo, users must blink their eyes while looking into the camera. Once this is completed, the transaction is processed.

The United States will be the first country to get the selfie security system, followed by Canada, the United Kingdom, and some European countries later this year. A worldwide rollout is expected by 2017.

It makes sense for MasterCard to start in the U.S., as Americans fall victim to a disproportionate amount of credit card fraud; the country accounts for 47 percent of the world’s card fraud, even though it only accounts for 24 percent of worldwide card transactions, according to Barclays. Overall fraud has been on the rise, too, with three times as many incidents in 2014 as in 2013.

New chip-based cards are meant to prevent much of that fraud, though it’s tough to gauge its impact this early into its implementation. 

MasterCard isn’t the only company exploring biometrics as a replacement for the standard password. British bank HSBC on Monday unveiled a system that uses voice commands and fingerprint checks to verify customers’ identities. Last year, PayPal even floated the idea of a pill that users could swallow after linking it to their account.

H/T Mashable | Screengrab via MasterCard News/YouTube

AJ Dellinger

AJ Dellinger

AJ Dellinger is a seasoned technology writer whose work has appeared in Digital Trends, International Business Times, and Newsweek. In 2018, he joined Gizmodo as the nights and weekend editor.