Alibaba Debuts ‘Smile To Pay’

By Rory Betteridge | 30 Mar 2015

In what’s being touted as a means of making online payments easier for people with disabilities, Chinese marketplace group Alibaba has shown off a new technology that allows people to pay for products with a selfie.

Alibaba Founder and CEO Jack Ma demonstrated ‘Smile To Pay’ at the recent CeBit conference in Hanover, Germany, publicly using the technology to close a transaction for the mayor of Hanover.

“(Using) online payments to buy things is always a big headache,” Ma told Internet Retailer earlier this month. “You forget your password, your worry about security. Today, we’ll show you a new technology, how people in the future will buy things online.”

Ma then bought a stamp from a 1948 Hanover trade fair from using his smartphone. Smile To Pay’s facial recognition software recognised Ma, approved his identity and processed the payment. Ma then said that the stamp would be delivered to the office of the mayor of Hanover within the week.

The technology behind Smile To Pay is being developed by Alibaba Group affiliate and operator of the company’s online payment service Alipay, Ant Financial.

“Our goal is perfecting and just to make it as convenient as possible for mobile payments,” Ant Spokeswoman Miranda Shek said. “We had a gentleman who had disabilities in his fingers visit our booth at CeBit. He couldn’t use a touch screen to type in passwords, and so he tried Smile to Pay. All he had to do was smile at the camera.

“This encouraged us to innovate on payment verification, and is one of the reasons why Ant Financial is developing more convenient payment verifications. Perhaps this is the solution for payment verification for people with disabilities.”

No set launch date for the technology has been made, with Shek claiming Ant Financial doesn’t want to ‘rush it’. That said, Smile to Pay has been an active research and development project for Ant Financial for the past year, and will be launched in China first before rolling out to other countries.

“There are security concerns and we are working on the technicalities,” Shek says. “We’re looking to perfect online and mobile payments system. We believe this could be disruptive to the future of payment verification.”

In addition to Smile to Pay, Ant Financial is working on other unique means of processing payments, including letting users pay by speaking a keyword or phrase, or even taking a photo of a tattoo or pet, in a program Shek refers to as ‘Kong Fu’. These seem to be much further away, and the company declined to elaborate on developments in these areas.

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