For the last two years, it seems that fintech has been the ones trying to monopolize facial recognition to mainly increase security in payments. China adopted the concept and chose to adapt it to public services.

China praises facial recognition as a means to improve smart city services

Alipay’s 2015 partnership with Face++, a tech company who focus on facial recognition technology, is a only the tip of the iceberg of China’s craze for this technology. Indeed, since even the cheapest smartphone is able to download and use a facial recognition system, the face screening system they created is now currently used by 150 million Alipay’s account owners.To limit fraud, retrieve a password or authorise high-risk transactions, the system will ask of its user to blink for the camera and they will then proceed with the action needed.

But what’s more interesting is that this technology is currently preempted by public services in China. Combined with the identity card system, Chinese government has indeed spent 10 years to develop a centralized and unified identity library, along with a fingerprint library, in order to provide identity verification services to financial institution and other public originations.


                                                         Alipay facial recognition interface

One of the many examples is linked to the Social Credit System the government has been trying to implement for the last 2 years. It is supposed to allocate a rating to every citizen based on economic and social status. To estimate this rating, the Chinese government built partnerships with associations, private companies and social medias to collect personal information from internet users. To make the data collection quicker through gamification and rewards, Shanghai has introduced an app called ‘Honest Shanghai’ that can be accessed by scanning the user’s face and cross-checking informations available online.



Also, the Guangdong Provincial Local Taxation Bureau has begun to use robot to serve the taxpayers. These kind of robot can recognize the identities of taxpayers in two seconds by scanning their face and saying “hi” to them followed by their name. To make this happen, all the information of the taxpayers - including ID card number, telephone number and a photograph of the person - need to be uploaded to the smart robot prior to the customer’s interaction with it..

Recently, the Traffic police department in China has been cooperating with huge payment platforms such as - of course - Alipay and WeChat Pay to use their facial recognition technology in order to access the online ID of the person who violated traffic rules and send a ticket through payment applications. This may change the situation of traffic issue in near future since it is quite common in China for pedestrian to jaywalk and it is impossible for traffic police to manage this kind of violation if they just rely on manpower. Shenzhen Police has also used facial recognition in order to prevent that kind of behaviour. They indeed installed cameras at an intersection and a billboard that "shames" jaywalker by displaying to everyone their picture taken by the facial recognition technology.

Different from the last generation, the young Chinese people are becoming more and more open to the innovative technology right now and are more willing to accept new kinds of services more quickly. Once they discover an easy, fast and efficient use, they will stick to it and introduce it to their peers. Right now, it is normal to see people use smartphone to pay their bills and get other public services in China, which was impossible to imagine five years ago. This country is transforming itself rapidly and will be the biggest innovation land in the future.

By Mu Cui
Senior Strategy Analyst