Biometric data transforms India into ‘most digitized economy’

A new initiative will make it easier for Indians to use their fingerprints and iris scans for everyday applications.

March 03, 2017

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A new initiative will make it easier for Indians to use their fingerprints and iris scans for everyday applications.

A biometric data collection camp for the Aadhaar project in Salt Lake,
Kolkata. Source: Biswarup Ganguly/Wikimedia

Biometric security has slowly been coming into its own as a mature technology, but some are still worried about privacy issues surrounding it. India is steamrolling over those concerns as it pushes its vision for the country's digital future. India has collected biometric information such as fingerprints and iris scans on nearly all of its citizens. A new initiative called India Stack seeks to standardize methods of exchanging this information.

It's easy to see why this initiative would worry privacy advocates, but the potential benefits are just as real as the risks. The uses seem almost limitless. Since the initiative has government backing, Indians could one day soon use "iris and fingerprint scans to sign up for insurance, invest in mutual funds, receive health-care subsidies and verify their identity for school examinations," the Wall Street Journal reported. Even Microsoft founder Bill Gates said India's biometric data push could lead to the "most digitized economy" in the world.

The boost to the economy could be another benefit. Credit Suisse projects that India Stack could help push India's financial technology sector to $600 billion by 2026, up from $2 billion today.

Fingerprint and iris scanning might be only the beginning, though. Right now those are the most mature forms of biometric security, but Microsoft has shown with Windows Hello that facial recognition has become very accurate, as well.

Apple isn't about to miss out on this opportunity, either. The company has reportedly acquired Israel startup RealFace. RealFace uses artificial intelligence to avoid being fooled, which was a weakness in older facial recognition technologies.

India might not be about to start collection of facial scans on all 1.2 billion citizens, but the maturity of biometric security shows that companies will continue to innovate in this direction. Consumer-facing companies like Apple and Microsoft have an incentive to make digital security as simple as possible for users.

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