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Face biometric payments launch at scale in Moscow Metro

Despite persistent surveillance concerns
Face biometric payments launch at scale in Moscow Metro

Moscow’s metro system has seen the launch of a new biometric facial recognition payment system, Face Pay, at over 240 stations this past week as the world’s first mass-scale system of its kind.

Announced in March, and with face biometric technology provided by VisionLabs, NtechLab and Tevian, passengers will need to connect a photo, bank card and metro card to the app and will then be able to look at a designated camera to pass through the metro turnstile. Payment transactions are handled by VTB Bank‘s Transport Processing platform.

Privacy concerns have been raised over worry that the cameras are being used as a surveillance tool, according to The Guardian. “This is a dangerous new step in Russia’s push for control over its population. We need to have full transparency on how this application will work in practice,” says Stanislav Shakirov, the founder of digital rights advocacy group Roskomsvoboda.

Public surveillance cameras across the capital were reportedly used to identify protesters supporting Alexei Navalny, and to enforce COVID-19 quarantines.

Cameras with on-device biometric processing are also being deployed to 316 multimedia screens, along with behavior analytics to detect sudden movements, line-crossing and loitering.

​​Maxim Liksutov, deputy mayor in charge of transport told The Moscow Times that data will be securely encrypted, “The camera on the turnstile reads a biometric key, not a face image or other personal data.” Concerns have been exacerbated by a report in Russia’s Kommersant claiming that users’ photographs uploaded to a public services website will be automatically shared with law enforcement.

Authorities however expect up to 15 percent of metro passengers to use Face Pay regularly in the next three years. Moscow Metro reports that 25,000 passengers joined the Face Pay service on the launch day.

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