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Fingerprinting trumps facial recognition for mobile marketers? 2014 priorities

With the launch of Apple?s iPhone 5S and more consumer acceptance around using mobile for authentication this year, marketers will leverage mobile fingerprinting in 2014 to supercharge their strategies. However, with Facebook and L?Oreal betting on facial recognition, the technology should not be counted out completely.

Fingerprinting and facial recognition have been around for a while, but generated more marketing interest this year as brands look for new ways to leverage mobile for more sophisticated features. Based on Apple?s lead with fingerprinting, brands will be close in following the technology, too.

?We expect fingerprint recognition to be more widespread than facial recognition in smartphones and tablets because finger-sensing technology is more mature and it is being heavily promoted by influential giant Apple in the iPhone 5S,? said Neil Mawston, London-based executive director of the global wireless practice at Strategy Analytics.

?Where Apple leads today, many other brands and industries often follow tomorrow,? he said. ?Fingerprinting has tended usually to come before facial recognition in most industries, such as in passport check-ins at airports, and mobile devices are following a similar broad trend at the moment.?

Mobile pulse
The interest in fingerprinting was primarily driven by Apple?s launch of the iPhone 5S that uses fingerprinting to store a password and unlock a smartphone.

Although not many banks and financial institutions are using it yet, the sector will likely be one to look most closely at fingerprinting in 2014 for authentication.

With the possible emergence of a mobile-only banker in the next couple of years, fingerprinting makes sense for the industry in helping to spur consumers to complete complex features from their mobile devices.

The challenge for banks in the next year with fingerprinting will be getting consumers comfortable with the technology.

For example, a Citi executive at Mobile Marketer?s Mobile Women to Watch 2014 Summit earlier this year cited fingerprinting as an interesting endeavor for the company. However, there are a number of regulations that go into the technology (see story). 

There can also be extra costs involved with fingerprinting that may cause some companies to hold back their investments until consumers are completely comfortable with the technology.

At the same time, fingerprinting has a long history of identification outside of mobile and digital marketing, making it more universally appealing to marketers.

?Fingerprinting is by far the faster-growing and more robust technology,? said Zach Newcomb, senior vice president of client services and partnership at Rokkan, New York.

?Culturally, fingerprinting is already accepted by consumers as a safe and secure technology, which will allow for faster adoption and product development,? he said.

Mobile recognition
Mobile will continue to become more sophisticated in 2014 with marketers leveraging contextual triggers such as facial recognition to pick up on intent.

For example, a L?Oreal executive at the Mobile Marketing Association?s SM2 conference in September said that she saw facial recognition as the next big mobile technology to personalize the path to purchase (see story).

Even though marketers will increasingly eye facial recognition, new research from Ericsson suggests that there is a greater consumer interest in fingerprinting. 

Fifty-two percent of consumers surveyed said that want to use their fingerprints to open up their mobile device while 48 percent of consumers are interested in using eye recognition for the same purpose.

Additionally, 72 percent of consumers surveyed said that they believe biometric smartphones will become mainstream in 2014.

The study included responses from 100,000 individuals.

?Given the considerably greater interest in using fingerprints, one could take this as an indication of higher market potential for fingerprints,? said Michael Bjorn, head of research at Ericsson ConsumerLab, Stockholm, Sweeden.

Privacy concerns
Despite the opportunities in both mobile fingerprinting and facial recognition, there are still plenty of privacy issues since the technology is still new.

Since both fingerprinting and facial recognition can be tracked down to a specific person, consumers may not be completely comfortable giving marketers bits of information that can be tracked at a granular level.

Both facial recognition and fingerprinting promise marketers a more targeted, personalized messages. 

However, the extent that consumers are willing to accept these personal technologies to receive personalized marketing is still up for debate.

Take facial recognition, for example.

Facebook and other social media sites have leveraged facial recognition for quite some time, but the technology is not being used to target consumers with marketing.

Similarly, camera manufacturers have loaded facial recognition features into products.

?The idea of adding the marketing side feels like to me a bridge that has not really been crossed yet, and that the marketing and retail industry needs to be very, very careful about how they cross it,? said Peter Eckersley, technology projects director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, San Francisco.

?People might get comfortable with it at some point, but it still feels like both of these technologies ? I think I would probably give a slight edge to facial recognition [for consumer acceptance] ? in the marketing space are still far from being easily accepted by consumers,? he said.

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York