Biometrics Go Live: Applications for Consumers


Biometrics in the most general sense is the statistical study of biological phenomena. Biometric identification, often called simply “biometrics,” is a specific application of biometrics for determining or verifying the identity of an individual. Long described as an emerging technology, biometrics is now being implemented in a wide variety of applications and settings.

While there remains some skepticism about the scalability of biometrics to large numbers of users, biometrics is already in widespread use.

A number of countries incorporate biometrics into passports and other identity documents. Several social media platforms also provide automated facial recognition.

In fact, more than 40 Japanese banks offer biometric identification (by infrared measurement of the vein structure of the hand) at more than 19,000 ATMs.

Consistent with a growing, commercializing industry, there has been a trend toward consolidation in the biotech industry over the past two years, with 3M, French defense contractor Safran SA, and Apple all making acquisitions. Judging by a range of factors, biometrics appears poised for broader use.

IBM Fellow David Nahamoo, blogging about one of IBM’s most recent rounds of “IBM 5 in 5” technology forecasts, writes, “Over the next five years, your unique biological identity and biometric data—facial definitions, iris scans, voice files, even your DNA—will become the key to safeguarding your personal identity and information, and replace the current user ID and password system.”


  • Biometrics will expand from military and security applications to broader consumer and commercial use.
  • Biometrics will become more accurate and flexible, will appear in new applications, and will be a standard feature of more devices.
  • Biometrics will be used not only to identify individuals but also to infer their demographic and psychographic characteristics and emotional state, enabling customization of goods, services, and experiences.


A number of substantial forces are driving the implementation of biometrics for both identification and characterization of individuals.

  • Mobile computing. Mobile phones provide significant computing power, are spreading rapidly in Worlds 1 and 2, and are being deployed with a variety of online sensors that can be used to collect biometric data. According to the US National Science and Technology Council, “Mobile applications requiring multifactor authentication will become commonplace for the average user” as biometric systems are accepted in commerce over the next 10 years.
  • Electronic commerce. Consumers continue to make connections between their financial lives and the digital world. Online banking, e-commerce, and mobile commerce (including mobile banking) are all on the rise. Biometric identification has the potential to provide an identity verification process that is both more convenient and more secure than other verification methods currently used in these forms of electronic commerce, such as alphanumeric passwords.
  • Cybercrime and identity theft. The rise in cybercrime and identity theft is also focusing attention on biometrics, and these threats appear to be intensifying. Cybercrime aimed at consumers—rather than businesses—is growing and now impacts some 1.5 million people per day, according to a 2012 study by Symantec. These attacks have direct financial costs of some $110 billion annually primarily in the form of fraud, repairs, and theft and loss.


While estimates vary, it seems clear that the market for biometrics is set to expand as it finds its way into more and more applications. Consider these forecasts:

  • Biometrics will become an $11 billion global market by 2017, according to a forecast from Acuity Market Intelligence.21 A more optimistic forecast from MarketsandMarkets anticipates $13.89 billion by 2017 and a CAGR of 18.7%.
  • In the shorter term, Deutsche Bank forecasts a 22% CAGR for the global biometrics market between 2009 and 2014, reaching total revenue of $9 billion by the end of the period.23 A slightly more optimistic report by TechSci Research forecasts a global market of $10.2 billion by 2014.
  • Frost & Sullivan estimated the Indian market for biometric readers at $50 million in 2011 and forecasts growth to $359 million by 2016, a 48% CAGR.
  • Creating and maintaining a biometric identification system may be feasible for a large organization (e.g., a major nationwide bank) but beyond the resources of a small one (e.g., a regional credit union). There may be an opportunity to offer biometric identification as a business service to let these smaller players (and their customers) tap into the benefits of biometrics. This would require creation of the corresponding business model.
  • There are many technical opportunities in biometrics development—from interoperability and standards issues, to sensor improvement, to robustness issues, to security issues, to methods for using biometric measurements to infer the characteristics of individuals. Organizations with a research competency will find a broad scope for basic research, technology development, intellectual property protection, and partnerships with industry stakeholders.
  • As governments in developing nations create national identity systems, they have an opportunity to leapfrog ahead of developed nations that may be hamstrung by the presence of legacy systems that have been in place for decades. Suppliers of biometric technology will find major opportunities working with those developing nations to create state-of-the-art systems.