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'Pay with a glance': Russia's Sberbank rolling out face-recognition payments

by Reuters
Thursday, 22 April 2021 12:49 GMT

An employee wearing a protective face mask and gloves picks up a tray of food from a cubby, which opens automatically with a facial recognition system, at a KFC restaurant offering contactless service, ahead of its opening following the easing of restrictions implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Moscow, Russia June 21, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

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The service which allows people to pay by face recognition within three seconds has stirred privacy and data concerns

By Alexander Marrow

MOSCOW, April 22 (Reuters) - Russia's biggest bank hopes shoppers will sign up for a facial recognition service that will let them pay for their groceries with just a glance.

Sberbank is partnering with supermarket chain Magnit and plans to connect 100 stores in Moscow and Krasnodar to the service by June, the two companies said on Thursday. A pilot programme is already running in ten shops.

As banking margins shrink, Russia's largest lender is expanding in areas ranging from food delivery and taxi services to cloud computing and cyber security.

Sberbank CEO German Gref told the RBC daily on Thursday that the "mind-boggling services" made possible by sharing biometric data would convince people to let companies access their personal data.

Eduard Iryshkov, director of Magnit's retail technologies department, said facial recognition payments would take just three seconds, compared to 34 seconds when paying with cash and 15 seconds when using a payment card.

The Moscow metro is launching a similar service this year, Face Pay, in an effort to quicken the flow of people. Those plans have stirred privacy and data concerns from rights activists.

Sarkis Darbinyan, head of the legal department at Roskomsvoboda, a group dedicated to protecting digital rights and freedom of information, said customers may be wary of using biometric data for payments.

"People are afraid, and not for nothing, that there might be errors in the use of facial recognition," he told Reuters.

Sberbank customers must activate facial recognition for their account and choose the 'pay with a glance' option at checkout to access the service.

"I'm certain that this is only the beginning and that, in the future, this payment option will become more popular than paying by card or cash," said Dmitry Malykh, director of Sberbank's acquiring division. (Reporting by Alexander Marrow Editing by Peter Graff)