Alibaba teases new face recognition tool for mobile pay

Alibaba tests facial recognition
Paying with a selfie? Alibaba's testing it out   

Alibaba may be about to take the concept of dining out on your face to a whole new level.

Users of the e-commerce giant's mobile payment systems could soon be able to pay by scanning their face with a smartphone, after Alibaba's boss teased the new technology on Sunday.

The service called "Smile To Pay" is currently in beta mode, but was shown off by Alibaba CEO Jack Ma during his keynote speech at the CeBit tech trade fair.

Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial is developing the technology for use with the company's Alipay online payment service and Alipay Wallet—a similar service to Apple Pay.

"Online payments are always a big headache. You forget your password...you worry about security," Jack Ma, said at CeBit in Hannover, Germany.

The Alibaba boss then went on to say that he had found an old stamp from Hannover on Alibaba.com—the company's e-commerce platform. Ma pulled out his phone, scanned his face with the front camera, and said the item had been purchased and was on the way to the Mayor of Hannover's office.

The annual transaction value of online and mobile payments will hit $4.7 trillion by 2019, up from just over $2.5 trillion last year, according to Juniper Research, and a number of companies are trying to get a slice of the pie. Apple unveiled Apple Pay last year, while Samsung returned fire with Samsung Pay last month.

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Providers are all trying to find ways to make mobile payments safer through authentication techniques. Apple's iPhones have fingerprint identification and several device makers showed off eye scanning verification at Mobile World Congress last month.

Alibaba is moving beyond these, however, and is also developing new verification techniques, a spokesperson told CNBC.

One system would allow a user to confirm a purchase by speaking a trigger phrase, and another solution, called "Kong Fu," would let a customer verify a payment by scanning something like a tattoo or even a pet, according to the spokesperson.

Smile To Pay will initially be rolled out in China but there is no fixed date for an official launch. The spokesperson said there are "all sorts of possibilities" about launching this in other countries too.

China is a partner company for CeBit and German Chancellor Angela Merkel used her part of the keynote to highlight the importance of the digital economy for both countries.