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Macau leads the way as all ATMs fitted with facial recognition technology

Soon all of Macau’s ATMs will be fitted with facial scanning technology

It looks like even more of our privacy is about to be eroded as Macau, a country whose suspicious transaction reports (STR) leapt by more than 25% last year, implemented new facial recognition technology in its 1,200 ATMs for holders of mainland-China issued UnionPay bank cards. On Tuesday of this week, many of the main city’s ATMs were noticeably quiet.

The former Portuguese colony, now officially known as the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, announced recently that it would be equipping all of its ATMs with facial recognition technology and that the first people to use it will be those Chinese using UnionPay cards.

As a result of the move, The South China Morning Post reported that some ATMs were minus their normal queue of tourists since many were not prepared for the additional requirements facial scanning imposes.

News outfit Bloomberg said that the new camera-equipped ATMs need approximately six extra seconds of a customer’s time to process the facial scans. Some analysts say that the new policy will not scare away mainland Chinese since they have fewer expectations of privacy than most Western consumers. Bloomberg also quoted Simic Chan, a senior analyst at Fung Global Retail & Technology in Hong Kong, who said: “Chinese consumers are not well-educated about how privacy should be important to them. They feel it’s a norm to have their data collected.”

Part of a crackdown

The ATM security squeeze comes at a time when Beijing is attempting to crack down more on its own corrupt officials by enacting further, although not very tough, laws on anti-money laundering laws which all seem to be aimed at Macau government senior officials.

Almost all of the ATMs in use in Macau are manufactured by US-based company NCR. The facial recognition technology is installed after the original ATMs are made. Macau’s other payment providers, which include Visa and Mastercard, will be required by the Government to retro-fit the technology to their existing ATMs at the bank’s expense.  NCR declined to comment on this story.

Worldwide revenues of facial recognition technology

The worldwide revenues generated by hardware and software to scan faces, fingerprints, voice and iris’s is expected to reach approximately $15.1 billion by 2025. It was $2.5 billion in 2016.

Tighter regulations include mandatory reporting of any large transaction, which will just have the effect of spreading out any money laundering actually taking place rather than stopping it. The threshold is $62,500 in the local currency, patacas.

It is almost certain that transactions will by placed for $62,499.99 so as not to attract official attention, and transactions just under the threshold will be ignored as before.

Use of facial recognition technology will grow

This makes it more annoying to launder money but doesn’t do much to stop it or slow it down. Ironically the US State Department has asked Macau to bring down the threshold to $3,000 to meet what it calls “international standards” which seems rather counterproductive. Maybe they are happy to see corrupt Chinese Communist Party bureaucrats laundering their bribes.

Facial recognition technology is stoking privacy concerns internationally. The Metropolitan Police in the UK have obtained there first conviction recently of a protester at a march who was picked out of the crowd using the technology and some Chinese cities have been using it to identify jaywalkers then shame them publicly by printing their faces on enormous billboards. The campaign seems to have backfired slightly since one commentator claimed the technology forced the jaywalkers to run across busy intersections in packs to try and avoid the cameras.


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