Companies identifying you using facial recognition technology

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - It may seem like the kind of thing you'd see in a Mission Impossible movie.  It is something so seemingly sci-fi it is hard for many of us to grasp.  However, it is already being used now and you've probably already had it happen to you, maybe without realizing it.

We're talking about biometrics, using a person's physical traits unique only to them to confirm their identity.

If you've ever been tagged in a Facebook photo or scanned your palm at the doctor's office or used your fingerprint to unlock your phone, you've participated in biometrics.

Experts say it has the potential to keep your online accounts and your identity very secure.  They say a biometric is harder to hack that a log-in and password.

Some police agencies and DMV offices use it, along with some hotels to identify guests and airports to spot security threats.  Disney uses it to identify season ticket holders at the gates and there's a school in the UK that scans students faces as they walk in for attendance purposes.

Right now the science behind facial recognition technology, specifically, is focused primarily on the eyes.  It also looks at the nose and mouth, scanning and measuring the size of each and pinpointing certain distances between them which are unique to your face.

WBTV Cyber Expert and CEO of Fortalice Solutions, Theresa Payton, uses it to track down "bad guys" within her company.  She says the technology is very advanced.

"You can grow a beard or shave one and it still might find you.  You can gain or lose weight and it could track you down," Payton told us.

This facial recognition technology is something being used by credit giant MasterCard.  The company is pilot-testing identifying card holders at a point of purchase using a "selfie".

"We've been working with experts in the field to perfect the technology and prove it is safe.  We know passwords aren't the ideal way to secure accounts anymore.  This is safe and convenient and that is hard to come by," said Bob Reany with MasterCard.

He explained how the technology works.  When it is time to confirm a purchase you hold up your phone as if to take a photo and blink.

"You notice you have to blink, maybe blink or move your mouth, these are clues and refresh rates that let the system know it is a live human being, not a photo or video," Reany explained.

MasterCard does not store your photo, instead the technology translates it into a series of numbers that are a mathematical representation of you.  This could roll out to some customers nationwide by the end of 2016.

Payton says MasterCard has been very thoughtful about safe use of the technology by requiring other identifiers other than simply a biometric.

"If it is used in conjunction with something else.  Perhaps it is with a user ID and password or a voice print, maybe there are behavioral things that can be added in.  That's what makes it safest.  If we go to biometrics alone that is a dangerous proposition," Payton said.

That's because some biometrics are still hackable and the government can't issue you a new fingerprint or face like they can a password or even a new social security number.

"I've seen studies and I've written in my books that it's been possible to take a gummy bear, use it to remove a fingerprint from an object, and then use that to trick a system into thinking it is the legitimate fingerprint," she said.

Now facial recognition technology is becoming accessible to more people.  Google has a reverse facial recognition technology tool that is free to use.  Click here to learn more about that.

It is also possible to fool facial recognition technology.   Watch the web exclusive video on this page to learn how some have accomplished that task.

To see a very informative government list that will likely answer any additional questions you may have about biometrics, click here.

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