Giving Apple’s Face ID The Finger: Will Biometrics Ever Work In The Workplace?

AWS - Facial Recognition

Your physical body and the digital space are becoming increasingly intertwined. Only this month, Apple announced plans for its “Face ID” feature, where you can unlock your iPhone X with your face.

The applications are extending to your workspace where you could use a biometric marker, such as your fingerprint or your face, to access certain areas or pay for goods.

For example, Chinese coworking operator UrWork is partnering with the Alibaba fintech Ant Financial to create a fully staff-less experience in its flexible office workspaces using face recognition software and digital payment systems.

UrWork wants members to buy snacks and enter a conference room, gym, or karaoke room within its centres by blinking at a screen or scanning a QR code – all without the aid of a human worker, according to reports. It’s not a new phenomenon, as Ant Financial opened a cashier-free coffee shop in the city of Hangzhou earlier this year and IoT technology has already been touted as a potential replacement for community managers.

It wouldn’t be surprising at all if the space I’m in adopted biometrics as a payment option

But how happy would you feel to have your face scanned every time you want to access a coworking centre or buy a cappuccino?

Sylvia Flores, chief creative officer for Bad Agency, has used coworking spaces for the last couple of years and considers them to be “the hotbed for the latest and greatest ideas and technology – it wouldn’t be surprising at all if the space I’m in adopted biometrics as a payment option.”

“Being a first adopter of all technology I can get my hands on, I don’t have any fear of biometric markers – frankly, I would be more than happy to get something embedded in my skin to keep me from needing to carry a wallet,” she added.

AWS-Fingopay

Payment using the Fingopay finger vein technology. Credit: Sthaler

Bob Katz, CEO of financial analysis and control technology services company FACTS Consulting, believes biometrics would bring benefits to coworkers. He said: “I would definitely appreciate using facial recognition or fingerprint to pay for coworking space. Since coworking is much like monthly rent, using biometric markers would be more convenient and would not be subject to risk, as would using biomarkers for point of sale purchases, for example.”

Others are less happy with the idea.

A hacked password can easily be changed, but a fingerprint is forever

Ian Wright, founder at UK comparison site Merchant Machine, thinks face-based payments ‘sound awful’. He added: “I really hate the idea of being scanned automatically and, quite frankly, find it rather creepy. If I had to choose what a biometric marker to use, I’d much rather use a fingerprint than my face. There is something vaguely Orwellian about using your face to pay for things.”

Simon Ponder, SEO Outreach Manager at Image Freedom, echoed this sentiment and said: “I work in a coworking space, and I do not know how comfortable I feel with them owning both my financial information and my biometric information. A hacked password can easily be changed, but a fingerprint is forever.”

It’s a pertinent point and some have voiced their security concerns around biometric technology. In the case of the iPhone X authentication system, the biometric data is encrypted and stored on the phone. In other words, there is no single database for hackers to steal this information. The exact details of data security for coworkers are less clear – but these concerns must be addressed for such technology to see widespread adoption.

Research reveals that consumers are split when it comes to facial recognition software. More than one-third (34%) of US internet users had a favourable view of facial recognition software in personal devices. However, 39% felt the opposite way and more than a quarter (26%) said they either weren’t sure how they felt, or had no opinion about it.

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Could “Vein ID” be better than “Face ID”?

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A Brunel University London student registers his finger vein to set up an account with Fingopay on Brunel’s campus in Uxbridge, West London. Credit: Brunel University London

There are plenty of other body parts that could be poked, prodded or scanned to give you a unique biometric signature. For example, a “payment by vein” technology is already being trialled at a supermarket in Brunel University London, UK. An electronic reader maps the user’s finger veins, generating a unique key.

Arnaud Leudjou, retail manager for Brunel University London’s Commercial Services department, said: “The technology is proving popular at Brunel, with close to 1,000 sign-ups in the past three weeks, so it has the potential to perform well in a workplace.”

He added: “It is working well at Brunel University London, which has a diverse student and staff population, therefore it could work well in other workplaces. Success in workplaces would probably depend on the demographic of the workforce, for example, are they early adopters, etc.”

Sthaler, the company behind the Fingopay technology, believe it could be extended to the workplace, as its director, Simon Binns, explained: “Not only would Sthaler’s Fingopay remove the need for cash, cards and smartphones for payment purposes in the workplace, but the technology also offers an alternative security access system.

“As the system is simple, fast, non-invasive and highly reliable, the device could act as a robust access pass to ensure that those entering the building are authorised personnel, and provide real-time information on who is inside. The technology could also provide an added level of password protection, for rooms or files that are highly sensitive.”

The concept of a ‘Vein ID’ technology brings further benefits, compared to Apple’s Face ID feature, as Binns explained: “As we’ve seen with Apple’s launch of facial recognition technology to unlock its new phone, there are pitfalls in its reliability. Most prevalently if you have an identical twin, or if you’re a teenager and are still developing.

“Your finger-vein remains the same throughout your life, and is completely unique to you.”

He added: “Facial recognition is also more subject to fraud, as the biometrics that secure your account, or your access, are visible to the world. The beauty with your vein is that it sits below your skin, and can only be seen when shining infrared light through your finger, making it much more difficult to see and replicate.

“While all biometrics have their strength and weaknesses, finger-vein is the most secure.”

However, it is normal to expect a certain level of opposition with pioneering technology of this type, according to Brunel University London’s Leudjou, who added: “What we have noticed is that most people who oppose the notion think that it is a fingerprint-based system or are worried about the security of their biometrics. The FingoPay team have been on the ground educating customers on how the system works and its high level of security through encryptions.”

Binns said: “A lot of people’s concerns relate to security, and the possibility of replication of the biometric, as finger-vein is not a widely understood concept. However, we are continuing to educate the industry on this point, as there is no higher form of reliable biometric – both in terms of uniqueness and the possibility of fraud.

“As we continue to seek to roll out the technology more widely, we are ensuring that it is properly understood to avoid concerns such as this arising.”

Sthaler is also confident that Fingopay’s stance on security can reassure operators, as Binns added: “Security and employee safety is something all companies take seriously. As cybersecurity threats increase, businesses are looking for ways to further reinforce their premises and company security. Finger-vein technology offers the ability to do just that. The veins in our fingers are unique to us, are virtually impossible to replicate, and need a flow of blood to be read.”

“As the user’s information is encrypted and stored in the Cloud, this data remains secure, and gives the company confidence that they are only provided access, either to physical places or digital files, to people completely authorised to do so,” he added.

So, again, it all comes down to reassuring the workforce that their biometric data is securely stored and managed. If we can overcome this preconceived notion that Big Brother is watching us, maybe your finger (and not your face) could be your wallet and ID card of the future.