Don’t Even Try Paying With Cash in China

“It’s hard for those of us who live outside of China to grasp how paying for everything has gone digital in the country,” writes the New York Times, introducing a Q&A with technology reporter Ray Zhong (who used to live in Beijing):

Most businesses there, from the fanciest hotels to roadside fruit stands, display a QR code — a type of bar code — that people scan with a smartphone camera to pay with China’s dominant digital payment apps, Alipay and WeChat. Paying by app is so much the norm that taxi drivers might curse at you for handing them cash…

Ray: Credit cards were never prevalent in China. The country skipped over a generation of finance and went straight to smartphone-based digital payments.

And the apps are simple for businesses. If a business can get a printout of a QR code, it can get paid by app. They don’t need special machines like businesses do to accept credit cards or many mobile payments like Apple Pay, which are essentially digital wallets of bank cards, while Alipay and WeChat are more pure digital payments… China has a stodgy, state-dominated banking system. These apps have allowed small businesses to connect to modern financial infrastructure easily.

I know paying with a credit card isn’t tremendously difficult, but making it a fraction easier to buy stuff has enabled different kinds of commerce. You probably wouldn’t buy something on Instagram for 50 cents with your credit card, but people in China buy digital books one chapter at a time.

What are the downsides?

Ray: Imagine if powerful tech companies like Google knew everything you’ve purchased in your entire life. That’s one. There are also concerns that Alipay and WeChat are so dominant that no one can compete with them.

Yet towards the end of the interview, the reporter concedes that Alipay and WeChat were “developed for China’s specific needs. I’m not convinced similar QR-code-based digital payment systems will catch on elsewhere. Maybe in India.”

US Tech Stocks Are Now Worth More Than the Entire European Stock Market

The dominance of major U.S. tech stocks in recent years has pushed the sector past another milestone as it is now more valuable than the entire European stock market, according to Bank of America Global Research. The firm said in a note that this is the first time the market cap of the U.S. tech sector, at $9.1 trillion, exceeds Europe, which including the U.K. and Switzerland is now at $8.9 trillion. For reference, the firm said that in 2007, Europe was four times the size of U.S. technology stocks.

Tech pulling ahead of the European continent comes as the U.S. market has become increasingly concentrated in mega-cap tech stocks, worrying some market strategists. The five biggest tech names — Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook — accounted for 17.5% of the S&P 500 in January, and the rotation into tech during the coronavirus pandemic has pushed that number well above 20%. Consumer tech goliath Apple is worth more than $2 trillion by itself. The run for Amazon might be the most stunning of the group. The company has been growing into a dominant force in e-commerce since the 1990s, but the explosion of the cloud computing industry has helped its stock surge over the past decade. Its share price was about 20 times higher on Thursday than it was in August 2010.

Amazon is looking into tech that can identify you using the veins in your hand

Amazon filed a patent for technology that could identify you by scanning the wrinkles in the palm of your hand and by using a light to see beneath your skin to your blood vessels. The resulting images could be used to identify you as a shopper at Amazon Go stores. It was previously reported that the Seattle-based tech giant might install these hi-tech scanners in Whole Foods grocery stores. However, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published an application on Thursday that suggests the e-commerce behemoth sets its sites on Amazon Go stores…

While fingerprint scanners have been around for years, Amazon hopes to innovate by developing a personal identification system that you don’t have to touch. Imagine hovering your hand in front of an infrared light as a camera snaps two images — one from the surface, and one that looks for “deeper characteristics such as veins.” An internal computer system would then identify you based on that information.

More jails replace in-person visits with awful video chat products

After April 15, inmates at the Adult Detention Center in Lowndes County, Mississippi will no longer be allowed to visit with family members face to face. Newton County, Missouri, implemented an in-person visitor ban last month. The Allen County Jail in Indiana phased out in-person visits earlier this year. All three changes are part of a nationwide trend toward “video visitation” services. Instead of seeing their loved ones face to face, inmates are increasingly limited to talking to them through video terminals. Most jails give family members a choice between using video terminals at the jail — which are free — or paying fees to make calls from home using a PC or mobile device.

Even some advocates of the change admit that it has downsides for inmates and their families. Ryan Rickert, jail administrator at the Lowndes County Adult Detention Center, acknowledged to The Commercial Dispatch that inmates were disappointed they wouldn’t get to see family members anymore. Advocates of this approach point to an upside for families: they can now make video calls to loved ones from home instead of having to physically travel to the jail. These services are ludicrously expensive. Video calls cost 40 cents per minute in Newton County, 50 cents per minute in Lowndes County, and $10 per call in Allen County. Outside of prison, of course, video calls on Skype or FaceTime are free.

These “visitation” services are often “grainy and jerky, periodically freezing up altogether,” reports Ars. As for why so many jails are adopting them, it has a lot to do with money. “In-person visits are labor intensive. Prison guards need to escort inmates to and from visitation rooms, supervise the visits, and in some cases pat down visitors for contraband. In contrast, video terminals can be installed inside each cell block, minimizing the need to move inmates around the jail.” The video-visitation systems also directly generate revenue for jails.

You Will Soon Be Able To Pay Your Subway Fare With Your Face in China

China has led the world in adoption of smartphone-based mobile payments to the point where the central bank had to remind merchants not to discriminate against cash. The next phase of development may be to pay with your face.

In Shenzhen, the local subway operator is testing various advanced technologies backed by the ultra-fast 5G network, including facial-recognition ticketing.

At the Futian station, instead of presenting a ticket or scanning a QR bar code on their smartphones, commuters can scan their faces on a tablet-sized screen mounted on the entrance gate and have the fare automatically deducted from their linked accounts.

Currently in a trial mode, the facial-recognition ticketing service could in future help improve the efficiency of handling the up to 5 million rides per day on the city’s subway network. Shenzhen Metro did not elaborate when it will roll out the facial payment service.

The introduction of facial recognition-and-payment services to the public transit system marks another step by China toward integrating facial recognition and other artificial intelligence-based technology into everyday life in the world’s most populous nation.

Consumers can already pay for fried chicken at KFC in China with its “Smile to Pay” facial recognition system, first introduced at an outlet in Hangzhou in January 2017.

“To use facial ticketing in the future, passengers will also need preregistration of their facial information and link their payment methods to their accounts, just like them making payments at the KFC restaurant,” said a staff member at the Futian station’s demonstration area in Shenzhen.
China may use facial recognition to stop kids from live streaming

Chinese cities are among the most digitally savvy and cashless in the world, with about 583 million people using their smartphones to make payment in China last year, according to the China Internet Network Information Center. Nearly 68 per cent of China’s internet users used a mobile wallet for their offline payments.