It has been happening across China, and now digital facial recognition technology has arrived in Yunnan. A bank in the capital city of Kunming has become the first business in the province to offer face scans in lieu of using a card to access accounts through automatic teller machines. The service is currently available at only one location — and only for existing customers — but the move is a first step for a technology that is expected to seep into every facet of life in China over the coming few years.
China Merchants Bank (招商银行) unveiled their facial recognition program at an ATM kiosk on Wednesday October 12. Situated on Jinbi Lu (金碧路), the cash machines now operate without cards. Customers simply face a digital scanner for up to five seconds as their likeness is matched with a file photo. Their account then opens automatically on the cash machine in front of them.
As a secondary verification measure, patrons must then enter their current cell phone and bank account PIN numbers. The entire process, according to local media, takes between 15 and 20 seconds. And while that amount of time is perhaps exactly the same duration it would take to insert a card and access funds, bank operators argue that the face scans will eventually eliminate entirely the need to carry bank cards. The logical offshoot — so the reasoning goes — is that without cards it will become far more difficult for thieves to access other people's accounts.
So how did Merchants Bank compile a database of photos for all of their Kunming customers in the first place? It turns out each time a patron visited the bank in person over the past year, their face was photographed during interactions with counter staff. The bank then created a digital composite in the run-up to launching its facial recognition system.
The same story is playing out all over China, perhaps most extensively during the recent double holiday, when some train stations in Shandong used facial scans instead of security guards to match travelers with their tickets. In cities around the country, not only are banks and mass transit nodes using such applications, so too are fast food restaurants, hotels and ticketed tourist destinations.
While fashion, shopping trends and even some legal requirements take longer to arrive in Kunming than to other Chinese cities, it appears ubiquitous facial recognition is somewhat of an inevitability. Already, internet accounts, utility billing, mobile phone SIM cards and WeChat accounts are linked to national identification numbers and what the Chinese government calls "real-name registrations" (市民认证). Biometric data may soon become yet another requirement, all while facial recognition software in other parts of the world remains a controversial and imperfect commodity.
Image: TayVan Drama© Copyright 2005-2021 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.