MasterCard app plans to let you pay for things with a selfie

A prototype biometric app can scan your face or your fingerprint to verify your identity to retailers.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films | TV | Movies | Television | Technology
Richard Trenholm
2 min read

Recording artist Zendaya poses for a selfie with fans at the 2015 BET Awards. Christopher Polk/BET/Getty Images

Say cheese: MasterCard has come up with an app that lets you pay for stuff with a selfie.

The credit card company is experimenting with a mobile app that uses facial recognition to verify your identity. After downloading the app, you pay for things by simply looking at your phone and blinking once. The blink prevents thieves from showing the app a picture of your face in an attempt to fool it. Alternatively, the app can read your fingerprint.

MasterCard is one of the biggest providers of credit and debit cards, operating in more than 200 countries. The company says a quarter of all credit card transactions are performed using a MasterCard. It's not alone in looking at ways for people to use their smartphones to pay for things and manage your money; Apple Pay, Google Wallet and Barclaycard bPay are among the mobile payment services vying for your custom, and a UK bank even announced last month that it will operate entirely through an app rather than in branches.

There's no word on when or even if the app will be available to customers. It was teased by MasterCard's President of Enterprise Security and Safety Ajay Bhalla in an interview with CNNMoney in which he discussed alternatives to passwords for "the selfie generation".

The app doesn't send either your fingerprint or a picture of your face to MasterCard. Instead, it converts the image into code and sends it to MasterCard. MasterCard says it's secure, but any transmitted data is potentially vulnerable; by contrast, Apple's Touch ID fingerprint verification, for example, happens entirely on your iPhone and no data is transmitted.

The new biometric methods for verifying your identity could replace passwords or PIN codes. MasterCard currently asks for a password to verify purchases with its SecureCode system.

The company is also experimenting with voice recognition and even a method of verifying your identity by reading your heartbeat.