Who needs an ID card when you have... you?

Biometrics is progressing at a rapid pace and the day when your own body will be all the identification you need is fast approaching. It’s good news for those concerned about safeguarding their data – but the biggest winners could be the ad industry, says Mike Peake Your pockets are empty. There’s no handbag hanging from your shoulder – and yet you are out for an afternoon’s shopping. Entering the mall, you are greeted by a personalised message on a video screen that tells you of a range of special offers that are likely to be of interest to you. Inspired, you head off to the relevant outlets, and are welcomed by name by a member of staff who has been alerted to your arrival by an announcement in an earpiece, discretely tucked away behind perfect hair. Based on your previous buying choices, the smiling salesperson asks if you would like to see a particular new range. You would. You’d like to buy. You reach out and put your thumb on to a small scanner that checks your fingerprint. A receipt pops out, and you leave with your purchases.

While this doesn’t quite describe the shopping experience of today, it’s astonishingly near to where technology is, thanks to advances in biometrics.

We’re talking about the field of science in which your face, your fingerprint, your iris and even the way you walk are monitored, recognised and used to identify you. Today there are already products available that enable payment by fingerprints, there are scanners that will identify you by the veins in your palm, and there is software that can tailor advertisements to you as you enter a room. Adding all of these together, tomorrow’s shopping experience is literally staring us in the face.

Movie fans will tell you of the fun to be had looking back at sci-fi films to see if their predictions for the future have turned out to be true. While we’re still waiting for a time-travelling DeLorean and Blade Runner-esque replicants, one film that was right on the money was Minority Report. Released in 2002, the film might still be a little ahead of itself with regard to its central theme of predicting crime before it happens (although many police forces are now using predictive data and statistical models to second-guess where crime will happen next), but it was astonishingly prescient about the way that biometrics would be able to identify us wherever we went.

When Tom Cruise’s character enters a shopping centre and is bombarded with personalised advertisements because his iris is constantly being scanned, it seemed sinister and far-fetched. But today this is entirely possible – providing you’ve consented to having your iris scanned and the data being made available for marketing purposes.

That’s unlikely to happen any time soon – but you don’t have to be complicit to be greeted with personalised advertising: an Irish company called Biometric Advertising has created a platform for analysing people’s reactions to digital advertisements they see on screen. By measuring this "consumer sentiment", as they call it, complimentary advertising messages can then be delivered.

Translation: if you smile in an interested fashion when you see a new haircare product on a digital billboard, it can instantly give you more information. Similarly, if facial recognition software detects that you’re a man in your 20s, you’ll be shown an appropriate ad – such as a new aftershave.

Ideas like this are at the heart of Biometric Advertising’s work, and of many other companies, too. Germany’s Cognitec Systems, for example, offers technology that "can analyse a face for gender, age and ethnicity as they approach a camera, which can trigger the display of a targeted message".

Which doesn’t sound all that bad… until you notice that the guy in front of you was blasted with Rolex advertisements while you were deemed more of a Levis kind of guy.

One of the first places to trial this technology was a shopping mall in Melbourne, Australia; it allowed the installation of a system called Anonymous Biometric and Objects Data Sensors (ABODS), which uses cameras to "size you up" as you enter.

Talking to the Brisbane Times, ABODS’ creator Chris Muir said that one advertiser, a mobile phone app, had reported a "100 per cent increase in downloads after using this form of targeted advertising".

It’s the advertiser’s dream – no more wasted ads – and it’s going to become ever more prevalent whether you like it or not, as evidenced by the news that the UK is also giving it a go. British business magnate and star of the long running BBC series The Apprentice, Alan Sugar, is lending his name to a face-tracking system that is about to be rolled out in 450 supermarket petrol stations.

Don’t like the sound of it? Luckily, your biometrics are something that can be kept under control and used to your own advantage, too...

If you’re anything like us, you’ll have a document on your laptop that lists all of your passwords and login details and, even though you’ve labelled it "Christmas 2007" or something similarly innocuous, you might as well have left the keys to your house taped to the lid and left the whole lot in the street.

Passwords have become such an infuriating part of our lives that according to recent research, millions of us have resorted to '123456' or ‘password’ in order to keep them memorable. Easy to recall, they are, of course, just as easy to guess: in 2012 there were more than 12 million recorded cases of identify theft. But the answer to the problem could be staring us in the face – literally. A small, rather cute device called the Myris (as in my + iris) will soon sit on your desk and look into your eyes to see if you are who you say you are. Using state-of-the-art technology, it is one of a fast-growing number of consumer products that are bringing biometrics into the mainstream. Within a couple of years, you won’t be logging on with a password, you will be doing it with your eyes, your fingerprint, or even your heartbeat.

"Myris is as easy as looking in a mirror," says Anthony Antolino, chief marketing officer of EyeLock, which makes the Myris. "Simply look at it, and have your identity confirmed in a matter of seconds. Once logged in, Myris’ password management dashboard allows you to manage as many digital access points that require login credentials as you like." From social media to online banking, he says, this gadget will allow you – and you alone – to access them all.

Growing evidence that we’re losing patience with – and track of – our passwords prompted EyeLock to come up with such a seemingly fail-safe device for use in the home. "As we see in the news almost every week, passwords are being hacked," says Anthony. "Myris allows you to make your passwords as complex as you like, but not have to remember them every time you log in."

Your iris is second only to your DNA in terms of its uniqueness. Anthony claims that Myris will identify more than 240 points of unique characteristics in each of your eyes, and comes with a claimed one-in-2.25-trillion chance of allowing the wrong person to log in. Fingerprint scans, by comparison, offer a not-quite-so-convincing 1 in 50,000 chance of a false positive, although expert opinions on this number do vary. Iris scanning is already in use in the UAE. At Dubai airport this system ensures that people who have criminal cases against them are prevented from entering the country.

As well as the better-known methods such as analysing voice patterns and the aforementioned fingerprint and iris scanning to detect who you are, experts believe that everything from the way we walk to the way we smell could one day be used to identify us digitally.

Progress is being made at a rapid pace, and today’s experts scoff at the memory of the days when, during the technology’s infancy, a laptop with a fingerprint scanner was easily fooled by a Gummy Bear sweet.

In Jordan, the Cairo Amman Bank now has more than 100 cash machines that use iris scanners to let customers withdraw their money – and the bank claims to have notched up more than 1 million transactions with zero cases of fraud.

PayTouch, a Spanish venture, offers a fingerprint-based system of paying for purchases in stores. And another company called BioGuard is the world leader in palm vein technology. Its product, the ID-Pod (designed in conjunction with Fujitsu), verifies your identity by analysing the unique pattern of veins in the palm – a process that takes moments when waving the hand over a scanner. It could be used for anything from paying for products to confirming gym membership.

In tandem to advances in biometrics, wearable tech has become a much-talked-about concept during the past few years, thanks in no small part to the success of Nike+ and Sony’s recent SmartWatch. So it’s no surprise, perhaps, that several companies are looking to pair up the two markets.

'Nymi' is a wearable, watch-like device that is, “uniquely tied to the wearer’s identity". Its biometric credentials are especially clever: a sensor measures your ECG – your heartbeat – which the creators insist is unique. The product, they say, will allow you to log in/authenticate just once per day and then communicate with a variety of connected devices – everything from online accounts to door locks – via Bluetooth.

"It's not just about security, it’s about making the most of identity," says Kurt Bartlett, Nymi’s marketing and PR manager. "If people want to have meaningful, personalised experiences across industries from retail, to healthcare, to social, Nymi offers a secure, privacy-protected opportunity.”

And at Dh290 a go, it’s a snip.

Whether you like it or not, your body is fast becoming your own personal ID card. Your unique personal traits will increasingly be used to confirm who you are and which not-so-random products you might be tempted to shell out for. And on the positive side at least you won’t be in danger of forgetting to take your fingerprints or eyeballs with you the next time you go on holiday…
(News courtesy : fridaymagazine.ae/)