Apple normalized facial recognition software with the iPhone X. The TSA has implemented biometrics into airport security. Airlines are experimenting with biometric boarding passes to make your travel experiences more efficient and hassle-free.
Biometrics is becoming more commonplace. As small businesses continue to adjust to an ever-demanding technology landscape, it's important to understand how you can use biometric authentication in your business. Whether it's verifying payment information or authenticating employees clocking in and out for work, the applications for biometrics in small business are more diverse than you think.
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Before diving into how your business can use biometrics in its day-to-day operations, it's important to understand what it is, how much it costs and why your business should consider implementing it.
What are biometrics?
Biometrics are any physical or behavioral human characteristics completely unique to an individual. These traits include fingerprints, voices and facial patterns (which are the basis for the facial recognition technology that law enforcement agencies are increasingly adopting). Biometrics are used both inside and outside of the business world.
Biometrics are popping up everywhere, and it's an industry that's gaining ground as consumers opt for the convenience of using the most natural authenticator out there: themselves. Nowadays, consumers can use their fingerprints or face scans to verify their identity, make payments and increase security. Biometrics can also serve as a way to unlock your passwords for applications and other important information.
Since these traits cannot be shared by other people, biometrics in business can be used to grant access to employees who have access to certain facilities or data and employees who do not.
Biometrics in business are useful for more than security. They also have applications in tracking employee time, marketing and preventing wage theft.
What is biometrics authentication?
Already, biometrics have been worked into time and attendance software and security systems to ensure that businesses are working to provide their employees and customers with the most secure services. The technology may be in its developing stages in the U.S., but as it ramps up, so will business applications.
"Biometric solutions are in high demand since they are more affordable and enable a higher level of identity authentication," wrote Amir Shechter, director of Quad4 at Convergint Technologies, in an email. "We work with several solution providers, and are continually evaluating new and emerging biometric technologies to offer to our customers."
Right now, biometrics' main function is in multifactor authentication – the technology is used as one step to identify a person during a transaction. As it continues to develop and is slowly integrated into consumers' lives, biometrics could play a role in different use cases, like more personalized customer service experiences.
Which types of businesses are using biometrics?
Here are some real-life examples of how businesses and other organizations are using biometrics:
- Fingerprint and finger-vein scanning. Barclays Bank is using finger-vein scanners to confirm that a customer accessing a bank account is indeed cleared to do so. This technology is more advanced than more commonplace fingerprint-scanning technology, as it uses infrared technology to map the veins in a customer's finger.
- Iris scanning. Those movie scenes in which someone’s eye is scanned before they enter a top-secret space aren't just fiction anymore – these technologies are here. The United Nations currently uses it to verify that refugees aren't accidentally receiving extra aid that other refugees might need.
- Facial recognition technology. This is the same technology used on newer iPhone models – just show your face to the technology and it will match your unique facial features to a pre-stored data map of those features. You can also find this technology at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where Delta has begun implementing facial recognition check-ins.
- Biometric punch cards. These cards pair with biometric technologies in case readers and scanners fail. They are already common in India, where students must confirm their attendance via fingerprint scanners or, if scanners fail, punch cards.
- Biometric marketing. Though currently less common than the above applications, biometric marketing may hold promise for increasing customer experiences and conversion rates. Additionally, marketers may soon be increasingly able to use customer biometrics to deliver personalized ads and campaigns.
Biometrics may still be a couple of years away from full adoption in the U.S., but the technology is gaining ground. Ever AI is a facial recognition company that partners with businesses to implement practical facial recognition solutions. The company's chief revenue officer, Doug Aley, said that facial recognition could soon become a step in the security process at some companies.
Aley said companies can install cameras in the ceiling of building lobbies that read the faces of workers as they walk through to their offices.
The cameras "can see people coming from a distance and authenticate them on the way in," he said. "That's usually coupled with somebody that's looking at the people going by and pulling out the people that aren't in the system."
He also talked about other use cases that he believes will emerge in the future. In one scenario, a customer who opts in to a program with a favorite coffee shop can get a personalized customer service experience thanks to an integration between facial recognition software and a business's POS system.
"We look at a future where I can go into a store where I've opted in … [and] the point-of-sale machine recognizes me and tells the clerk behind the desk, 'Hey, this is Doug. He likes a latte.' Then I can be greeted with, 'Hi, Doug, would you like your latte today?'"
Aley said biometrics can mirror the personalized web experiences consumers have with personalized business experiences in the physical world.
"That kind of level of personalization, and then being able to follow through with that transaction with an actual payment mechanism that's on file for me, is a much smoother transaction," he said. "I don't have to carry my wallet around; I don't even have to carry my phone around."
Biometrics, particularly fingerprint scanners and facial recognition software, are being implemented into time and attendance software. This prevents employees from clocking in for one another and can improve company workflow.
"The clock-in, clock-out scenario obviously solves a lot of problems for people," Aley said. "In a relatively frictionless way, you can ensure that employees are not clocking in for other employees and are actually there on time when they said they are going to be there."
Now may not be the time to integrate biometrics into your business's workflow. But it's technology to keep your eye on as it develops and is integrated into consumers' everyday lives.
One concern that's arisen with the development of biometrics is user security and privacy. Collecting and implementing data tied to specific physical features is a big step for any employee or consumer. However, Aley said the cybersecurity risks associated with biometric technology can be mitigated with multifactor authentication.
"With every factor that you add, you boost the cryptographic strength of that transaction – and you're using factors that are either difficult to guess or difficult to replicate – then you're going to be in much better shape," he said. "I think that as biometrics become a part of … those authentication systems, you're going to see the prevalence of the ability of data breaches go way down."
Another aspect regarding biometric security relates to how small businesses handle that sensitive information. While biometric info can verify a user through multifactor authentication, it's important for small businesses to store this information safely and securely. In a blog post for Duane Morris Health Law, Amy McCracken provides insight into the Biometric Information Privacy Act, which details the legal requirements of companies looking to obtain biometric information. While specifically related to the healthcare sector, this case should serve as an example that businesses should be sensitive to potential legal issues if they errantly start collecting employee data.
"The act requires entities that collect biometric data to first obtain informed consent, in writing, by the individual or their representative," she wrote. "In addition, the entity must have a policy and procedure for destroying the biometric data in accordance with the act."
Biometric law is a relatively new field, so there may be state-specific requirements, as well as federal guidelines, on how to handle biometric data. As an emerging form of authentication, biometrics will only become more present in business over time. While you may not need to hire a lawyer at the outset to stay compliant, it's important to be aware of how sensitive this information is and stay vigilant to potential issues.
Shechter said biometric technology can be an affordable option for some small businesses. This depends largely on what your business needs and how you plan to use it.
"Biometric devices are much more affordable and should be incorporated into most businesses," he said in an email. "Some forms of biometrics are more secure than others – fingerprint versus iris scans, as an example. But these systems are still often superior to basic card access systems, which can be easily hacked or simply transferred from one person to the other."
Still, make sure you establish a necessary use case before implementing this kind of technology – especially if you're looking to build it into your customers' experience. This technology is still developing, so if you're interested but aren't ready to partner with another company, it's ideal to wait and see how other businesses employ biometrics in their day-to-day operations.
"Make sure the use case is really solid and your customers are going to be comfortable with it," Aley said. "Introducing something and spending a lot of time on something that your customers aren't going to be comfortable with is not going to be a great recipe for success."