Ant Financial introduced the software in its Alipay mobile payments app in July 2015 to a small pool of beta testers. These users can opt to log in to the app using an eye test, as well as ordinary passwords and fingerprint readings on some phones.

Image for article titled Alibaba believes the future of mobile payments lies in the veins of our eyeballs
Image: Ant Financial

Chinese companies in particular have much to gain from investing in biometrics for security. Online fraud is rampant throughout the country, and despite the size of Alibaba and competitors like Tencent, Chinese internet giants still struggle to curb password theft and scams. Jiewang, a service that collects reports of online fraud run jointly by the city of Beijing and software company Qihoo 360, received notice of 24,886 instances (link in Chinese) of online fraud in 2015, with the average loss amounting to 5,016 yuan per person (about $750).

Alibaba already hinted at its ambitions to ramp up reliance on biometrics for security when it demoed a “pay with a selfie” feature on Alipay, using facial recognition from Face++, a Chinese startup. That company later partnered with Uber in China to launch face-recognition tests for drivers, in order to better ensure that the person behind the wheel was indeed the same person logged into the app.

Acquiring EyeVerify also gives Ant Financial a path to expand outside of China. Both Ant and Alibaba remain wildly popular among domestic Chinese internet users, but have a very weak presence outside their borders. EyeVerify, meanwhile, has inked partnerships with smartphone companies like Nokia and Samsung, as well as with banks such as the US’s Wells Fargo. In the future, when looking at your phone to make a bank transfer, you might actually be looking towards China.

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