Alibaba Looks into Your Eyes

Acquires Optical Recognition Firm EyeVerify

This week, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s payments arm, Ant Financial acquired EyeVerify, a maker of optical recognition technology. The companies had previously entered into a licensing agreement to integrate EyeVerify’s Eyeprint ID service into Ant Financial’s payment authentication platform. This is another signal that biometrics is becoming a real tool to ease financial transactions while fighting fraud.

EyeVerify, from Kansas, Missouri, was founded in 2012 and boasts some blue-chip clients including Wells Fargo and dozens of regional banks and credit unions in the US. The company claims that its technology is 99.99 percent accurate. It says it doesn’t collect or store any biometric information; instead its entire eye-authentication process takes place on a user’s smartphone.

Ant Financial says it expects to implement EyeVerify’s technology across many of its offerings. The company claims to have more than 450 million customers in services including its online payments platform Alipay, and online peer-to-peer lending services.

We note that EyeVerify’s Eyeprint ID technology is different from Samsung’s iris-scanning feature found in the Galaxy Note7 smartphone. Although Samsung uses a dedicated sensor to read the iris, EyeVerify uses the device’s standard front-facing camera to read blood vessels in the sclera, also known as the white of the eye.

Ant Financial’s acquisition of EyeVerify could enable it to win acceptance from US merchants so that Chinese consumers can use Alipay wherever they travel. This is a good move by Alipay, given its scale, as biometrics becomes an accepted and even expected interface to security.