By adaptive - April 18th, 2016

The Selfie is not just for the Kardashians and Millennials, now MasterCard wants you to authenticate your online payments with one. Ella Williamson investigates MasterCard’s new pilot scheme, nicknamed “Selfie Pay”.

Last fall MasterCard announced MasterCard Identity Check, a mobile security app that enables consumers to pay online with a selfie or by using fingerprint authentication. Users download the MasterCard Identity Check App, shop online, checkout and when it comes to making their payment, enter their card details.
If further authentication is required, the shopper takes a selfie whilst blinking, or scans their fingerprint. Pilot schemes for Identity Check have been running in Holland, the US, and most recently, Canada, with plans for an official launch in the UK, US and Canada in the summer of 2016.

“Passwords are a pain – it’s time to move on,” declares the MasterCard Identity Check video. It certainly can be frustrating trying to remember a host of passwords, especially the more complex ones with symbols, numbers and capitals.
Ajay Bhalla, President of Enterprise Safety and Security at MasterCard states, “We want to identify people for who they are, not what they remember." Switching passwords for biometrics, MasterCard has developed Identity Check to work in place of MasterCard SecureCode, where users are asked to enter a password to verify their identity when online shopping.
Pilot Programs
Initial pilots of Identity Check took place in the US and Holland. The US pilot program included 200 First Tech Credit Union employees and ran in September and October 2015. Pilot participants used the Identity Check App to make virtual donations to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, authenticated by facial recognition or fingerprint biometrics.
In Holland, 750 ABN AMRO cardholders had the opportunity to complete their online payments with a selfie or a fingerprint scan rather than passwords or confirmation codes. Pilot user feedback has been positive according to MasterCard. Anonymous reactions include, “This stimulates me to pay with my card” and “I would never want to go back (to passwords).” MasterCard findings from both pilots are listed below.

• Nine out of 10 cardholders would like the biometric identification system to replace passwords
• 75 percent of users are convinced that biometric payments will decrease fraud
• 92 percent rate MasterCard Identity Check as more convenient than passwords
• 83 percent believe MasterCard Identity Check is more secure than passwords
• 60 percent would strongly recommend MasterCard Identity Check to family or friends

• 88 percent of pilot participants found biometrics overwhelmingly easy to use
• 86 percent found fingerprint and facial biometrics easier to use than passwords

Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst for, is optimistic in his prognosis for MasterCard Identity Check. “Most anything that helps make transactions safer and moves us away from more traditional security tools like passwords is a good thing for consumers. As with any new technology, we’ll have to wait and see just how effective and impactful it is, but at a minimum, it seems like a promising step in the battle against credit card fraud,” he says.
Thad Peterson, senior analyst, Retail Banking and Payments for Aite Group explains that this kind of technology is not without its challenges, “The algorithms being used for image capture in authentication are really strong and facial recognition compares favorably with other alternatives. The challenge with ‘Selfie Pay’ is the need for the algorithm to capture the necessary data points regardless of the position of the face in the camera, the ambient lighting and other visual distractions that could impede recognition.”
Taking a Pass on Passwords
A spokesperson for MasterCard reveals its approach to biometrics to OMM, “We believe in a layered approach to payment security. Biometric authentication is just one of those layers. It’s about how you use these elements in combination – at the cardholder authentication level and then behind the scenes through our network, with intelligent fraud screening tools or tokenization to encrypt card details on mobile devices. MasterCard Identity Check is the first solution to market that will remove the need to remember passwords completely from the online payment experience.”
Infrastructure for retailers is already firmly in place assures MasterCard, stating that, “If retailers use MasterCard SecureCode, they can use this. The Identity Check process takes over and the biometric, device ID and geolocation are used instead of asking a consumer for a password. The advantage of this approach is that millions of merchant systems already support this and Identity Check can be used with no change to those systems.”
Schulz predicts that banks will be receptive to Identity Check, “Banks will be all for anything that helps make transactions safer, so if MasterCard Identity Check proves itself to be effective in reducing fraud, I would think banks would embrace it fully.”
Biometrics is certainly a key focus for MasterCard – with future plans to include heartbeat payment authentication. A partnership with heartbeat-sensing wristband firm Nymi has lead to a trial using the wearable technology, which creates a circuit through your body and captures your heartbeat, to authenticate a shopper’s identity at checkout.
Peterson reminds us that it’s important to avoid anything that’s too Big Brother-like and suspects that the heartbeat method could fall under this category. However, if it reduces friction in a transaction it’s not to be overlooked, he says, “If a heartbeat read is faster and easier than other alternatives, then it has potential. If not, consumers will not adopt it”.

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