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Instant Analysis: Amazon.com Inc. Wants to Patent Selfie Payments

By Leo Sun - Mar 18, 2016 at 3:43PM

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Amazon thinks that you’ll be willing to authorize payments for purchases with a smile, a wink and a click.

Amazon (AMZN 2.97%) recently filed a patent application for a process that would let shoppers authorize payment when buying products by simply taking a photo or video of themselves. The application is an extension of another patent that Amazon holds, which enables a device to authenticate a user's identity via a photo or video, but not necessarily use that to complete a purchase.

Source: Pixabay.

Another step toward frictionless purchases
In the past, Amazon patented -- and arguably revolutionized -- one-click purchasing. Therefore, it's logical for Amazon to make the process simpler and more secure by using a simple photo to replace a stored password. Doing so fits in with Amazon's vision of "frictionless" purchasing, which reduces the total steps needed to buy a product.

That's also why Amazon launched Dash Buttons, which allow customers to reorder consumables with the click of a button, and partnered with companies to sell DRS-enabled appliances that automatically reorder consumables when reserves drop below pre-defined levels. Its smart speaker, Echo, which Prime users can use to reorder previously purchased products, also complements that strategy. In addition to making it easier to buy goods, "selfie payments" would also eliminate the hassle of remembering passwords or hiding your screen from prying eyes while typing a password in public.

Amazon's not the only one
Selfie payments might seem like a gimmick, but Amazon isn't the only company that recognizes the value of facial-recognition systems. Microsoft (MSFT 0.02%), for example, added "Windows Hello" in Windows 10, which enables users to login to certain systems via facial recognition. Through the use of depth-sensing cameras, Windows Hello ensures that it's actually looking at a real, 3D face, and not a 2D picture, to log a user in.

Since many smartphones aren't equipped with depth-sensing cameras yet, Amazon's patent states that its app will "prompt the user to perform certain actions, motions, or gestures, such as to smile, blink, or tilt his or her head" to verify his or her identity and demonstrate that they are a live person rather than a photograph.

Innovation or gimmick?
As with many of Amazon's newer innovations, it will be hard to gauge the long-term impact of "selfie payments" until they actually arrive. Therefore, this news won't move the needle for Amazon in the near future. However, it casts an interesting spotlight on the e-commerce giant's ongoing quest toward frictionless payments.

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