Convenient or unsafe? Progressive or premature? Biometrics is becoming a significant issue as internet services grow stronger – yet it still has its sceptics. Will things like voice recognition become mainstream? Will they simply be able to supplement conventional identification methods, or actually replace them? We talked to Bernd-Josef Kohl about trends and developments in the field. Kohl provided expert advice on behalf of GFT in a recent DB Research study on “Homo biometricus – Biometric recognition systems and mobile internet services” (Der vermessene Mensch – Biometrische Erkennungsverfahren und mobile Internetdienste).
Mihaela Budja: Why conduct a study on biometrics?
Bernd-Josef Kohl: Biometric recognition is becoming more and more important as a security technology. One reason for this is that conventional identification techniques have their limitations. Another is that the areas in which biometrics can potentially be useful are becoming more diverse – especially in the field of financial services. Overall, the upshot is a rapidly developing market. I found it incredibly exciting to be able to tap into my practical experience and take a detailed look at the issue.
MB: How strong are the reservations about biometric systems?
BK: For millions of social networkers, automatically tagging and linking personal photos is part of the daily routine. Although it’s a hotly debated issue, more and more people are doing it. Another example of this is seen in voice apps for mobile phones and the required voice profiles necessary to run them. These are nothing new to users and they are becoming more accepted.
MB: Does this apply to banking as well?
BK: No, biometrics is in its infancy here. Some countries, such as Japan or Brazil, already have ATMs with fingerprint or palm biometrics. They’re part of the scenery. It will be a good while before we see people making withdrawals like this in Germany. As a rule, you could say that biometrics will be introduced in select areas such as airports or entrance/access control points, but it hasn’t yet reached the mass market within the banking industry.
The implementation strategy is key to gaining greater acceptance in this industry. Data and user protection plays an important roll here, so banks have to approach the issue carefully. At the end of the day, it will boil down to striking the right balance between factors like security, ease of use and cost.
MB: So, is there no potential for mass application in the near future?
BK: Actually, there is. The greatest potential lies in general identification controls like access control and clocking-in systems, or POS terminals, as well as in mobile and stationary payment processes, or credit and debit cards. Tests are already being run on biometric cash machines and biometric features on bank cards.
MB: Have conventional identification systems served their purpose and run out of steam?
BK: In the mid- and long-term, biometrics can replace magnetic strips on the back of cards as well as PINs and TANs. I believe two systems will start to dominate: voice biometrics in mobile phone applications and finger/vein scans on debit cards.
MB: Where will the road take us? What will biometrics look like in 2030?
BK: A wide variety of exciting possibilities exist for biometric mechanisms: for example, smart homes with intelligent objects that adjust themselves to the needs of the occupants. Doubtless it’ll also become more important to network everyday objects. In addition, there’s still plenty of potential in the field of security, or health, but also in the automobile industry. But we can even expect changes in the financial sector: some leading banks are considering abandoning mTAN and iTAN systems as early as 2013. Their aim is to roll out a new system in the course of the next year. So a lot will happen in this area quite soon.
The survey, “Homo biometricus – Biometric recognition systems and mobile internet services” (Der vermessene Mensch – Biometrische Erkennungsverfahren und mobile Internetdienste) can be downloaded for free in English and German from the GFT website.