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During a Pandemic, No One Wants to Swipe Their Finger

George V. Hulme

May 15, 2020

During a Pandemic, No One Wants to Swipe Their Finger

While some of the impacts of the current global pandemic could be predicted, such as the move to work from home, cloud computing, and other technological change, one of the changes that one might not consider until in the thick of the pandemic would be biometrics.

I first noticed my potential aversion to biometrics, well, aversion to touching anything highly trafficked, when shopping at a pharmacy in early March, just as coronavirus infections began registering in my area. While checking out, I asked to input my phone number for a rewards card. I didn't. I paid with my phone and moved on. My reaction would have been the same if I was asked to swipe my fingerprint. I've not handed anyone any cash or a physical credit card since all in-person transactions.

I wasn't the only person to have concerns at about public touch-based biometrics. Around the same time, the New York Police Department stopped its employees from using a fingerprint biometric to authenticate entrants to the NYPD headquarters. “Until further notice, only scan your ID. Finger scan is NOT required,” orders a large sign that now greets those entering the NYPD headquarters, One Police Plaza,” the New York Post reported.

I don’t see that changing any time soon. I doubt that it will be a permanent aversion to touch-based biometrics in public settings. Still, the aversion will last long enough to have a dramatic impact on the nature of biometric deployments.

Technology market advisory firm, ABI Research, recently said that the novel coronavirus pandemic dramatically lowers the shipments of biometric devices. A drop that could cause biometric related revenues to decrease by $2 billion throughout the rest of this year. Dimitrios Pavlakis, Digital Security Analyst at ABI Research, said that "contact biometric technologies like fingerprint and vein have been dealt a substantial blow due to new governmental regulations targeting contact and close-proximity interactions. Fingerprint biometrics vendors are struggling to uphold the new stringent hygiene and infectious control protocols. These regulations have been correctly introduced for the safety of users and personnel, but they have also affected sales in certain verticals," he explained.

But it’s certainly not all bad news for all forms of biometrics. “On-premises physical access control, user registration, identification, and workforce management systems have been greatly affected in the enterprise and commercial space, but these applications also spread into healthcare, law enforcement, border control, government, civil, and welfare,” Pavlakis added.

According to ABI Research, the pandemic has given rise to increases need to identify and surveil people, and this will increase investments in biometric artificial intelligence algorithm design, which the firm says will, in turn, provide an increase to face recognition technologies.

According to ABI Research, the total biometric device market is expected to reach $28 billion this year, with the government and the security market taking a significant loss totally over $1 billion.

Pavlakis expects device makers to innovate. “AI biometric firms are adapting to the biological threat. Biometric technologies are currently undergoing a forced evolution rather than an organic one, with artificial intelligence biometric firms spearheading the charge,” Pavlakis said. “New IoT and smart city-focused applications will enable new data streams and analytics, monitoring infection rates in real-time, forcing new data-sharing initiatives, and even applying behavioral AI models to predict future outbreaks.”

And innovate, they are. According to this story, Deep Dive: COVID-19 Spurs Biometric Innovations for A Contactless Global Society, China is deploying facial recognition that purportedly can detect those infected with the novel coronavirus, and how developers in Japan are introducing facial recognition they claim can identify people even while they are wearing masks.



George V. Hulme

George V. Hulme is an internationally recognized information security and business technology writer. For more than 20 years Hulme has written about business, technology, and IT security topics. From March 2000 through March 2005, as senior editor at InformationWeek magazine, he covered the IT security and homeland security beats. His work has appeared in CSOOnline, ComputerWorld, Network Computing, Government Computer News, Network World, San Francisco Examiner, TechWeb, VARBusiness, and dozens of other technology publications.

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