Your privacy in exchange for convenience: that’s the continuing trade-off the Beijing Metro commuters as the city’s public transportation system is set to introduce facial recognition technology to subway station entrances before the end of the year.
No specific details have been announced yet, but a subway spokesperson said the company plans to incorporate biometric authentication as part of subway entrance policies, thereby suggesting that commuters that allow their faces to be recorded and scanned may be allowed to cross subway security checkpoint without having to submit to a baggage search.
We cannot say for sure if this is the case; it could be that face-scanning may just be used as a way to pay for subway fares. And yet, this seems to be a safe bet when considering the way the city has long been looking to adopt this technology.
Last year, the head of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau said the city will promote the use of facial recognition technology at subway security inspection areas as a way to reduce waiting times for the public.
Besides using a transport card or paying for a one-way ticket, there have never been more ways for Beijing commuters to pay for their subway fares.
This past week, Beijing Metro formally adopted a QR system reading system that allows commuters to pay for fares using e-commerce systems like Alipay and WePay (shown above). In the 20 days since it was introduced last month, some 5.32 million Beijing commuters have used the service, mostly traveling on Lines 10 and 4.
Even though these new features are not mandatory, the Beijing Metro is unabashedly accepting that they are nothing short of necessary in light of the subway’s inefficient and crowded service. As a Beijing Metro spokesperson said, commuters who don’t sign up for the QR code service are forced to endure a 30-minute-long wait to buy subway tickets at certain stations.
Facial recognition technology is already widely-used throughout Beijing at train stations, airports, staffless convenience stores, fast food restaurants, universities, and public restrooms, and was even used as part of the Didi Hitch destination-sharing car ride app.