Should we be concerned about Amazon’s ‘selfie password’ patent?

Amazon’s trademarked “1-click” buying could get even more streamlined. The online retailer has applied for a patent to use selfies as a security measure instead of passwords.

In the patent application, Amazon writes that Internet-connected devices are becoming widespread, yet people with unseemly motives can easily steal passwords and access devices. Inputting a password in the first place is far from convenient, Amazon notes. When passwords are stored on a device, another person can use that device for nefarious means.

With this proposed technology, a camera is used to verify that the person using the device is the original user. Amazon stresses that holding up an image of the person won’t work, as the subject has to be a “living human being.” The customer will have to perform an unspecified action to confirm the purchase.

Interestingly, this isn’t as ludicrous as it sounds. A number of time-tested security measures are out there, but this facial recognition technology could be quite useful as a further deterrent to hackers.

That’s assuming that the technology works effortlessly and without issue. Fingerprint scanners were supposed to be an enormous development in terms of security, but extremely motivated hackers can compromise even this technology. Passcodes are the most common and usually effective, but those can also be compromised.

Selfies Everywhere

Amazon isn’t the only company interested in using selfies as a form of biometric confirmation. MasterCard, the third largest credit card company in terms of purchase volume, is also interested in pursuing this technology.

Ann Cairns, MasterCard’s president, said at a conference earlier this week that trials for “selfie security” are going well. “We are starting to see authentication happening in a fun or interesting way,” she said, according to Mobile World Live.

MasterCard plans to roll out the technology to more than a dozen countries later this year.

While improved security is the main benefit of needing to take a photo, the perks extend beyond foiling hackers’ attempt to steal information. Parents could prevent their kids from making purchases without permission, while people who tend to forget their passwords could have an easy solution.

Privacy Concerns

The one big question that remains is how customers feel about using selfies instead of passwords and other traditional security methods. Some people might be uncomfortable taking a selfie of themselves. This would be especially true for people with privacy concerns over how their information might be shared and used by governments and large corporations.

With this technology, companies could have hundreds of photos on record of each of their customers. They would have detailed information about location, not to mention exact details about looks.

Companies don’t always have the best track records when it comes to respecting users’ privacy, and selfie security could be a bridge too far for some people. Some companies have no qualms of selling personal data to the highest bidder, and information gleaned from these photos feels especially personal since they’re selfies.

While MasterCard is testing out the program and Amazon is interested in pursuing the technology, there are no real assurances yet about what limits the companies using this technology will place on themselves.

However, it’s also quite likely that people won’t mind at all and selfie security will become totally accepted. Few people have actually used this technology in day-to-day activities, so it’s hard to gauge how the general public would react.

Can It Work?

Companies take security seriously, as hackers have shown that few systems are truly safe. Selfie security is a promising development in ensuring that information stays protected and identities aren’t impersonated, but few security systems have zero flaws.

Nothing is 100 percent invulnerable, but this selfie security system could be a great measure from a security standpoint.



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