Facial Recognition Software Could Turn You Into a Ticket to Ride

March 13, 2019, 10:18 PM UTC

Imagine rushing through your commute without having to stop to pay train fare or add money to a subway pass.

That might sound like a big city commuter’s dream, but the Futian subway station in Shenzen, China, wants to make it a reality. The station, which is located in a bustling city of 12.53 million residents, is testing facial recognition payments, according to the South China Morning Post.

Every time a commuter looks at a small tablet, it recognizes their face, and deducts their fare from a previously-linked payment method. The system is powered by a super-fast 5G network connection that could ultimately allow the technology to scale for millions of riders, if everything goes according to plan.

The report comes amid growing concern about how facial recognition data sets, and software, could be used in the future. Earlier this week, NBC News reported that millions of Flickr photos were scraped by IBM, under a Creative Commons license, but without user consent, to help them eliminate bias in facial recognition software. However, facial recognition technology is already used in public in China, allowing the government to do everything from shaming jaywalkers to predicting a person’s behavior.

The world’s most populous country also tends to be a group of early adopters. While mobile payments are slowly catching on in the United States, they’re incredibly common in China. Of those surveyed, 40% of Chinese consumers reported using mobile payments on a weekly basis, while 77% of consumers said they had used a mobile payment in the past, according to a survey from Kantar TNS, a global insights consultancy.

The subway test certainly isn’t the most unique payments experiment the country has tried. In 2017, a KFC restaurant in China let people pay for their fried chicken with something you can’t leave at home—a smile.


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