MasterCard Customers Will Soon Be Able to Use a 'Selfie' Password

by Luke Graham, Special to CNBC /  / Updated  / Source:
Image: App that allows for online payments using biometric authentication
A man holds a smartphone with an app that allows for online payments using biometric authentication, Amsterdam, Netherlands. MasterCard and payment provider ICS have been carrying out a test for the last six months among 750 ABN AMRO credit card holders, with the app that recognizes and authenticates facial features through a 'selfie' photo made by the smartphone's camera. SANDER KONING / EPA, file

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MasterCard customers will soon be able to replace their passwords with a "selfie" and fingerprint to verify their identity and make payments online.

The payment processing company confirmed the decision to introduce biometric checks this week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Ann Cairns, head of international markets for MasterCard, told CNBC that biometric checks had been trialed in the U.S. and the Netherlands, and that the company will be launching them in the U.K. soon.

"I think the whole biometric space is a great way of protecting yourself when you are doing payments," she said. "There are a whole range of biometrics that say 'I'm me, I'm making a payment' and it just makes the whole thing more secure."

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Biometric solutions could include facial recognition, fingerprint scanners or checking the customer's heartbeat using wearable technology such as smartwatches.

The company first revealed the MasterCard Identity Check system in October last year as part of its commitment to improve online payment security.

The system could lead to increased online sales as passwords are replaced with a more convenient solution. According to a survey by MasterCard, 53 percent of shoppers forget passwords at least once a week, wasting more than 10 minutes to reset their accounts and leading to a third of shoppers abandoning their purchase.

"People shop on all sorts of devices, and they expect technology to simplify and secure the transaction," said Ajay Bhalla, president of enterprise security solutions at MasterCard, in a press release. "This is exactly what Identity Check delivers."

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Cairns added that the checks could help people in developing markets who may not have official ID documents.

"If you think about some of the things we've rolled out in some emerging markets, in places like Africa, where people don't have identities because they don't maybe have passports or driving licences, then biometric authentication is a way of saying 'I'm me,'" she said.

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