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Alibaba inches closer to an Apple Pay deal, one fingerprint at a time

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
Alibaba chairman Jack Ma displays his left index finger.
  • Adam Pasick
By Adam Pasick

Senior Editor

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Alibaba and Apple, whose bosses expressed an interest in marrying their respective mobile e-payments platforms last month, have moved from flirting to dating. Alibaba’s Alipay payments affiliate announced yesterday that it will allow users to authenticate their accounts with the iPhone’s fingerprint sensor instead of a password, indicating a deepening relationship between the two companies.

Alipay, which has more than 300 million users, most of whom are in mainland China, said that the newly released version of its iOS app will allow iPhone 5S, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus users to activate the fingerprint payment function immediately, according to a report by China Daily.

The new function would not necessarily require any new agreement between Alipay and Apple. The latest version of the iOS software allows third-party app developers to access the iPhones’ Touch ID fingerprint reader. Fingerprint data “is protected and is never accessed by iOS or other apps,” according to Apple—an important consideration given the intense government scrutiny of Apple’s access to Chinese consumer data.

Apple, whose new Apple Pay service is not yet available in China, is hedging its bets. In addition to pursuing a closer alliance with Alipay, the company has also partnered with UnionPay, Alipay’s state-run rival that has a virtual monopoly on processing payments between merchants, banks, and credit card companies. Apple and UnionPay signed a deal last month to allow Chinese consumers to link their UnionPay debit or credit cards to Apple’s app store, enabling one-tap payments from within apps on their iPhones and iPads.

Meanwhile, an Apple Pay-Alipay tie-up still faces one daunting obstacle: overcoming the objections of Beijing.

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