Biometrics — using physical measurements to draw conclusions — entered the mainstream through authentication for unlocking smartphones and other IoT objects. To date, the two most frequently used biometric measures are finger scans and retinal scans (which have recently been used for health diagnoses in addition to authentication). Now, there’s a new player in town: full-body scans, that operate for health/weight monitoring, virtual try-ons, and authentication. According to a senior architect working at a company that does full-body scanning through smartphones for weight loss that NewtonX interviewed for this article, biometrics is a rapidly maturing field with myriad applications.
However, this new trend raises a series of privacy, cybersecurity, and data protection issues. To delve into these issues, NewtonX additionally interviewed CIOs at biometric authentication companies including Paypal, as well as former senior-level cybersecurity employees at Apple and Samsung. This panel of experts identified the market for biometrics, the most likely future consumer applications, and the potential risks of integrating full-body biometrics into our everyday lives.
The insights from this article are sourced from NewtonX surveys, panels, and expert consultations. To gain access to these services visit newtonx.com.
Capturing, Tracking, and Storing the Cyber Body
Biometrics are a fairly foolproof means of everyday access control. While of course, spy movies are replete with instances of James Bond-like characters printing a fingerprint on silicon then using it to gain access, in the real world the price point for pulling a stunt like this makes it too high for all but multi-million dollar heists. Because of this, consumers have become increasingly accustomed to using fingerprint or retinal scans as a means of accessing their phones, homes, bank accounts, and other private entry points. Now, some companies are taking this acceptance a step further, and introducing products that scan the user’s entire, 3D body.
The $1,395 Naked 3D home body scanner is one such product. Users stand on a rotating podium/scale while a mirror uses depth cameras and a laser pointer to capture four gigabytes of data on the user’s 3D body. Then, the mirror’s built-in computer processes the raw data and sends a smaller file to the cloud, enabling users to access their scans and measurements via an app.
Amazon also reportedly stepped into the body scan space earlier this year. Select participants were invited to participate in a 3D body-scanning survey, in which participants had the size and shape of their body monitored over a 20 week period. The survey surfaced after Amazon acquired Body Labs, a startup that captured and scanned the body’s shape and motion.
Biometric data at this level, especially in the hands of startups and tech giants (as opposed to healthcare providers) raises questions about data ownership and security. It’s highly possible for data obtained during biometric scanning to be used in ways other than what the user consented to. For example, some biometric features can disclose physiological medical conditions (retinal scans can reveal genetic sex and over 50 while hand vein patterns can reveal vascular diseases).
While Naked Labs assures users that no Naked Labs employees can see the scans and that users may delete their data at any point, in light of recent hackings at Uber, Facebook, Yahoo, and even government agencies, these assurances are not bulletproof. Even encrypted servers can be hacked, and the treasure trove of sensitive data embedded in a biometric scan would be tempting prize for hackers.
Despite this, the CIOs interviewed all felt that biometrics will become increasingly incorporated in consumer life. Whether that’s through face scans instead of front door locks, body scans instead of traditional scales, or through biometric credit cards remains to be seen — but companies and investors are betting on these futures and more.
The $16B E-Access Control Market is Just The Tip of the Iceberg
Biometrics for access control is already a booming market. For instance, Disney World in Florida uses biometric fingerprints to ensure that tickets are used by the same person from day to day. Virtually all smartphones today have an option for biometric access — be it face recognition or fingerprint recognition. Even most apps allow for biometric entry, including banks.
But as the Amazon interest in the space and the recent $14M invested in Naked Labs demonstrates, the potential for full-body biometric scans goes beyond e-access. The experts interviewed for this piece identified potential applications including virtual clothing try-ons, virtual healthcare, and biometric credit cards and other payments.
As is the case with all consumer data, protecting and encrypting an increasing trove of biometric data will be a crucial aspect to incorporating it into our daily lives. But if VC funding, expert insight, and a growing potential market is anything to go by, the potential security risks of biometric consumerism won’t stop the field from growing.