In The Media

Canadians ready to ditch passwords for facial, fingerprint recognition: survey

by Maham Abedi (feat. Tom Keenan)

Global News
January 10, 2018

Canadians are ready to forget the many, many passwords they have for online accounts in favour of biometric technology, according to a new survey by Visa.

The credit card company released results of a survey of 1,000 Canadians, which indicated that 69 per cent are interested in using fingerprint recognition over passwords for identification purposes. Canadians were also interested in using other biometrics such as eye scans, and voice or facial recognition.

They also expressed interest in using the technology as authentication when it comes to making payments because it means no longer having to remember passwords or PINs. Forty-four per cent of respondents also felt biometrics are more secure, while others thought it was the more convenient option.

Thomas Keenan, a University of Calgary computer science professor and the author of book Technocreep, told Global News that the support for biometrics is not surprising.

“People are disgusted with passwords — I guess that’s the best way to put it — and looking for something better,” he said. “Biometrics could be something better.”

Keenan explained that passwords used to be simple, but have gotten increasingly complicated to remember. Respondents in the survey agreed; 32 per cent said they’ve given up online purchases because they couldn’t remember their passwords.

How secure are biometrics?

Keenan noted that passwords have been the cause of major security concerns. They often need to be written down, are susceptible to hacks, and can be stolen in lost phones or laptops.

While biometrics aren’t perfect, Keenan says they don’t carry many of those risks.

The professor gave the example of one German researcher who created plastic fingers that could fool Apple’s biometric technology for fingerprint recognition. He is usually successful, Keenan noted. But he also added that the same researcher still uses fingerprint recognition because he says it’s “good enough.”

“I don’t think people are going to go around making plastic fingers and doing all that work. For most people, it’s just fine.”

Privacy concerns

The survey found that the top concern for Canadians is that biometrics may lead to sensitive information being compromised — about 44 per cent expressed concern that unlike passwords that are stolen, fingerprints can’t be changed.

Keenan said that when it comes to privacy concerns, Canadians just have to trust that companies will be secure and not exploit information. And he acknowledged that sometimes, companies don’t follow ethical practices.

However, he explained that facial and fingerprint recognition on phones isn’t as intrusive as many people may think.

“When you enrol your fingerprint, it’s not actually grabbing your entire fingerprint,” the professor noted. “What it’s doing is studying your fingerprint, or if it’s your face, it’s studying your face, and taking a sample of it enough so it can tell you apart from other people.”

Keenan said the real concern is how intrusive it may become in the future.

“There’s research going on at many companies to look at your face to decide if you’re happy or sad, and the fear is that when they’re looking at your face to identify you, what else might they be doing?”

Should you start using biometrics?

Keenan said that those looking into biometrics should start off testing it out on their personal devices, such as smartphones and tablets. Then, establish trust when you’re familiar with the way the system works.

But he noted that biometrics is where technology is going — so those hesitant to try it out may not have the option to opt out soon.

Governments in developed countries are increasingly moving toward using the technology for identification, Keenan said, citing airport security as an example.

Some banks in the United States have also started offering facial recognition as an authentication method.

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