Amazon filed a patent application for a technology that would enable users to pay for purchases using a selfie.
The U.S. patent application is for image analysis technology for user authentication.
"The process identifies the user and verifies that the user requesting the transaction is a living human being," the application states. "The user is identified using image information, which is processed utilizing facial recognition."
Amazon explains that the user authentication would work by verifying that the image or video is of a live human using one or more "human-verification" processes. The device would then prompt the user to perform a specific action, such as making a specific hand gesture or blinking the left eye, to confirm the transaction.
The technology also is designed to detect the difference between an image of a living human and an image of a person in a two-dimensional photo. Sensors, such as thermal imaging, might also be used to detect a living being.
The technology essentially would do away with the need for passwords to buy merchandise on the retail giant's website. Passwords have historically been difficult to remember and easily stolen. While every so often an analyst or vendor will claim that the password is about to become obsolete, in general the technology hasn't arrived to make that happen.
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
In its patent request, however, the company reported that the application is related to a separate patent that Amazon holds for user authentication via a photo or video. That initial patent was not tied to a transaction function.
"As people are utilizing computing devices for an increasing variety of tasks, there is a corresponding need to improve the security available for these tasks," Amazon wrote in the application, noting that passwords have their own security issues. "The entry of these passwords on portable devices is not user friendly in many cases … and can require the user to turn away from friends or co-workers when entering a password, which can be awkward or embarrassing in many situations," it said.
Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst, found Amazon’s patent application intriguing.
"We may be advanced when it comes to technology, but we are still in the dark ages when it comes to security," Kagan said. "I have expected to see these kinds of new ideas over and over again over the last several years, but we have seen little or nothing."
Kagan also questioned how the technology might work if the user grows a beard, wears new glasses or changes a hair style or color.
"I often look different from day to day and I imagine many of us do," he said. "It's tough staying one step ahead of the bad guys. We need to see a regular inflow of ideas. Some will work and others will not, but we need to keep shaking things up."
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