Home / Headlines / Headlines Opinion / Destination Dystopia: Facial Recognition Payments Already a Thing in China

Destination Dystopia: Facial Recognition Payments Already a Thing in China

Last Updated September 26, 2020 3:10 PM
Ryan Smith
Last Updated September 26, 2020 3:10 PM

China appears to be head and shoulders above the rest of the world when it comes to new ways of processing financial transactions. Digital payments are booming in the hybrid communist-capitalist country, so much so that facial recognition payments are already a thing:

This particular employee looks completely unfazed by the technology even if onlookers may marvel at the incredibly efficient system that’s not typically seen in the West.

Destination Dystopia: Facial Recognition Payments

“1984” Brought To Life

The Chinese government received widespread criticism in the years following its announcement of a social credit system in 2014 aimed at monitoring the moral behavior of its citizens. The move should scare the bejesus out of anyone who’s read George Orwell’s “1984.” If you haven’t, I’ll sum it up.

“Nineteen Eighty-Four” is a fictional novel written post World War II that imagines a future where superstates rule the world with an iron fist. One state, in particular, monitors its citizens through government surveillance and a secret organization known as the Thought Police.

CCTV London
CCTV in one of the most watched cities, London | Source: Wikimedia Commons/MFleischhacker 

Thinkpol’s modus operandi is to quash independent thinking. Seventy years on and Orwell’s imagination may be on the fast track from fiction to fact. As we continue to see widespread corporate and social media censorship, the prevailing trend suggests the PRC (People’s Republic of China) will have the power to punish anyone who steps out of their financial line.

Identification Fraud Remains a Huge Problem

At first glance, facial recognition payments seem helluva convenient. No need to pull out a wallet, pocket change, or even your mobile phone. But who is authenticating your identification and how secure is it? One response to the highlighted video above presents this problem perfectly:

“Can’t wait to go paying for stuff as someone else.”

Identification fraud has long been a problem for the authorities, and not just in the modern world. The internet, however, has made it a lot easier to steal someone else’s identity from thousands of miles away. One study estimates  that 14.4 million people fell victim to fraud in 2018 alone.

Without the proper precautions in place, a hacker may go around spending your life savings in a matter of minutes, or worse, committing crimes under your banner. Criminals often test out new technology first. It shouldn’t be long now before we hear the first ingenious reports of mischief.

The Advantages of Facial Recognition Don’t Really Outweigh the Disadvantages

It’s probably not all doom and gloom though. A world in which we no longer carry wallets, keys, or even mobile phones is a distinct possibility with this technology. There’s also a good chance you’d spend a lot less time in places like airports and government office queues.

Those are fairly minor conveniences though. Perhaps the most exciting application is in the field of healthcare, where emergency response systems could gather information about you even if you were unconscious. On holiday in another country with a different language, paramedics would have your medical history at their fingertips.

Ultimately though, the advantages don’t really outweigh the disadvantages. If blockchain has its day, that may all change of course. The problem with facial recognition payments is the same as corporate cryptocurrencies. He who controls the data directs the future.

Big Brother is watching.