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Tech & Science From the metro to the supermarket, facial recognition creeps into the lives of Russians

15:20  10 march  2021
15:20  10 march  2021 Source:   lepoint.fr

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  Du métro au supermarché, la reconnaissance faciale s'insinue dans la vie des Russes © Supplied by Le Point

D e cameras crisscrossing the city at metro gates and supermarket checkouts, facial recognition is progressing at high speed in Russia , between technological progress and fears of abuses for the benefit of the authorities.

Lower your mask, look at the camera, and presto, the groceries are paid. At the cash desks of one of the main Russian supermarket chains, curious customers were testing the novelty introduced this week in Moscow by Х- $, the country's leading distribution group.

The group, to which the ubiquitous Perekrestok and Pyaterotchka supermarkets belong, has joined forces with the Visa payment system as well as with Sberbank, the leading Russian bank and public giant today in the process of transforming into a digital juggernaut.

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From 52 currently in Moscow, the number of supermarkets connected to the system should be increased to 3,000 across Russia by the end of 2021, told AFP Ivan Melnik, innovation director at Х- $.

"It's practical, you don't have to carry your wallet or take your phone out of your pocket, you just have to press a button and pay with your face," explains Mr. Melnik.

It also ensures that these transactions are "safe, secure, encrypted", and identity theft attempts excluded thanks to a 3D camera that measures the depth of the face.

"For the elderly, of course, this is new" and can lead to "a lack of confidence", he concedes. "But I find this idea very cool," said Andrei Epifanov, 28, an employee of the private bank Alfa Bank, in the corridors of a Moscow Perekrestok on Tuesday.

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The pandemic, catalyst

Behind this system, there is Sberbank which, for several months, has been offering its tens of millions of customers - the group claims that 70% of the Russian population uses its services - to register their biometric data to access payment by facial recognition.

The pandemic has caused a leap forward in these technologies.

"The desire of the Russians to protect themselves during the pandemic has propelled the demand for cashless payments", assures in a statement Mikhail Berner, in charge of Russia at Visa, affirming that this will continue after the pandemic.

According to the daily Kommersant on Wednesday, the authorities are nevertheless frustrated by the slow progress in the collection of biometric data launched in 2018. The objective would be to increase the number of people who have ceded this data to the authorities from 164,000 currently to more than 70 million within two years.

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Quoting a source familiar with the matter, the daily indicates that to speed up the process, some public services could become inaccessible to recalcitrant.

"Not consented"

In Moscow, the municipality further strengthened its gigantic arsenal of more than 100,000 surveillance cameras - one of the largest in the world - and used it to monitor compliance with containment and quarantines linked to the pandemic .

The Moscow metro began in September 2020 to mount facial recognition cameras on its gates. In early March, the city announced that all stations in the city were now equipped. Immediately to monitor, and soon to pay.

"Only people on the wanted list are checked," said Andrei Kitchiguine, deputy head of the metro in charge of security, in an interview on Lenta.ru in early March.

"The information is stored in a data center to which only the police have access," he added, adding that since the launch in September, around 900 people had been arrested.

While consent will be required for payments, this is not the case for municipal cameras using facial recognition to arrest suspected criminals.

"According to the law, citizens must consent to the use of biometric data, but in the case of facial recognition, we did not consent", thunders a campaign against "mass surveillance" accompanied by a petition launched last year by the association for the defense of digital freedoms Roskomsvoboda.

Concerns increased during demonstrations in early 2021 in support of the imprisoned opponent Alexeï Navalny . A leading opposition activist, Aliona Popova, had denounced the use of recognition to identify her and her supporters at the rallies.

10/03/2021 12:31:32 - Moscow (AFP) - © 2021 AFP

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