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In China, your face is the new password

From KFC to catching drug abusers, China has given a new significance to your face with the multitude of facial recognition implementations in the country

You may or may not be the type to attach much importance to your face, but if you’re in China, you soon may not have an option but to look your best – face-wise. Our neighboring country has been on a roll in introducing facial recognition into every possible avenue and the latest in that line is your bucket of fried chicken from KFC. Alibaba’s Ant Financial has recently announced the rollout of a facial-recognition based payment feature with at KFC outlet in Hangzhou, China.

KFC Facial Recognition
Even wigs and groups won’t affect the tech’s accuracy

How does it work?

The functionality of the feature is pretty standard and similar to how you would order at a KFC normally, except for the actual payment part. At the KPRO outlet (a healthier alternative type of KFC outlet), you walk up to the ordering kiosk, build your order and then select ‘Facial Scan’ as the payment option. To identify you, the system will also require your phone number that has been pre-registered to your account. Check out the actual demo below:

A little background

The feature isn’t exactly brand new for Ant Financial but this is the first time it has been introduced for commercial use. Prior to this, users of the Alipay mobile payments app could log in to the app using facial recognition on their smartphones.

This isn’t KFC’s first bout with facial recognition either. At a Beijing KFC, Baidu had implemented a smart restaurant where facial recognition tech can predict a customer’s order based on factors like age, gender, and facial expression. Those factors were picked up from a facial scan.

KFC in China

KFC isn’t new to trying innovative ideas at its outlets, especially in China. Along with the above-mentioned partnership with Baidu for predicting orders based on facial recognition, in another partnership with the search giant, often referred to as the ‘Google of China’, KFC had launched a robot-operated restaurant. At that outlet, a robot customer service agent can listen for and recognize orders made by customers using natural language input.

It's red. Yeah.
It’s red. Yeah.

KFC also launched a smartphone back in July in partnership with Huawei, complete with a fingerprint scanner as well as a Snapdragon 425 processor, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, a microSD card slot and comes with Android 7.0.

Other facial recognition implementations in China

Around the same time as the above announcement, Alibaba’s rival in China, JD.com was also reported to have launched a facial recognition based payment system at a product showroom, although no additional information is available right now.

Omnipresent facial recognition can push surveillance to a new level
Omnipresent facial recognition can push surveillance to a new level

Last week, Chinese media reported the apprehension of 19 individuals at the annual beer fest at Qingdao with the help of facial recognition. Police had set-up a network of 18 cameras, which scanned the faces of the crowd for individuals with past history of drug-abuse. Among them, these 19 tested positive and were apprehended.

Some of the other implementations are innovative and somewhat intrusive at the same time:

  • In Shenzhen, the city government recently introduced a device in 12 taxis that verifies the ID of a driver using facial recognition.
  • China Southern Airlines recently introduced facial recognition instead of boarding passes.
  • Beijing Normal University implemented a facial recognition system as a check-in system for one of its women’s dormitories.
  • An amusement park started using facial recognition to combat toilet paper theft in its restrooms.

What this could mean

While intrusive technology, that straddles the border between private and public information, does face a lot of public opposition in the west and elsewhere, China does not see similar opposition. This could be because the citizens are less wary about sharing private information. If the current pace of facial recognition implementation is to continue in China, there could be a day not too far in the future where it’s no longer a fringe technology, but ubiquitous and mandatory in the country.



Arnab Mukherjee

Arnab Mukherjee

A former tech-support desk jockey, you can find this individual delving deep into all things tech, fiction and food. Calling his sense of humour merely terrible would be a much better joke than what he usually makes.