Chinese bank card issuer UnionPay introduced its own facial recognition payment service at the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Beijing Business Today reported on Sunday.

Why it matters: The use of facial recognition in digital payments has stirred up controversy in China. State-controlled UnionPay’s adoption of the technology signals an increasing acceptance as a mainstream payment method in the country, some analysts believe, and the development of standard practices on biometric technology for payments could follow.

Details: According to UnionPay, the feature dubbed “Face Scan Pay” (our translation) uses a two-factor authentication process requiring users to enter a payment password after scanning their faces. The added layer of security aims to make it safer than other facial recognition payment services currently in use.

  • Users can activate the feature via UnionPay’s mobile app Cloud QuickPass or the mobile banking apps of commercial lenders.
  • According to Chinese media, the service will first be available to users in the Chinese cities of Ningbo, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Jiaxing, Changsha, Wuhan, and Hefei.

Context: Facial recognition technology is mainly used by payment companies and law enforcement in China.

  • Ant Financial’s Alipay rolled out the facial recognition point-of-sale (POS) device Dragonfly late last year, which has been deployed in more than 300 cities across China. Tencent’s WeChat Pay has been quietly testing face-scan solutions over the past year and, in August, showcased its first POS device, the Frog Pro.
  • The implementation of the technology has raised privacy and security concerns worldwide and in China, hindering wide adoption. Many Chinese facial recognition firms have recently been caught in the crosshairs of the China-US trade war. The US recently blacklisted major artificial intelligence players, including SenseTime, Yitu, and Ant Financial-backed Megvii, from importing American technology and buying US products.

Nicole Jao is a reporter based in Beijing. She’s passionate about emerging trends, news, and stories of human interest within the world of technology. Connect with her on Twitter or via email:

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