Forget swiping, smile to pay for your KFC

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Zimswitch Smile to Pay

So imagine this, you and your friends walk into a KFC near you, maybe the one by Belgravia shops here in Harare. You’re there so you can order your favorite meals and just chill together. You’ve all made your choices and it’s time to pay, you take out your card to swipe or even get ready to use EcoCash on your phone. Then suddenly the cashier is like “oh, by the way, you can just smile to pay”.

Such a scenario seems like something out of the future, fortunately, the time we live in is an era where new innovations are constantly being created. One KFC in Hangzhou, China has just made that brief story we mentioned earlier a reality. At that KFC, you can literally pay for your KFC by just smiling and entering your phone number.

The system that is making all that possible is called Smile to Pay and it was launched by Alipay at that KFC. The Smile to Pay system was developed by Ant Financial, a subsidiary of the e-commerce giant Alibaba. It was first introduced to that company in 2015 as an idea by Jack Ma, Alibaba founder and has been in development ever since.

Now, instead of you interacting with a cashier, you’re placing your order on a screen the size of half a full-length mirror (those mirrors that show your full body when you’re staring at them). On that touch screen, you select the meals you want, the quantities and then when you’re ready to checkout, you just look up to smile.

When you look up, a three-dimensional camera scans your face and then after around one to two seconds it’ll be done the scanning. During the scanning, it will use some complex facial recognition algorithms that analyze image patterns for facial features and shadows to decide whether you really are you instead of a picture of you or a video.

After it’s done scanning within those two seconds, you will then be asked input your phone number and then the payment is made. So it’s kind of like paying with your EcoCash but instead of dialing any short code or opening an app and inputting your pin, you use your face as the pin and it all happens more quickly since there are fewer steps to take.

It is also more secure since no one else looks like you. In the case of your pin and EcoCash, if someone grabs the phone with the EcoCash line and also knows the pin then they can go on a KFC buying spree if there is money in the account. However, the system might be not secure in that if someone manages to replicate your face in a three-dimensional model then all they need is your phone number and if the model is realistic enough it might trick the system. But even that is far fetched and the system might be good enough to know the difference between a real person and a model that doesn’t have blood pumping in it.

According to the promotional video of Smile to Pay, Alipay says that they do not store any user data and they use encryption to make sure that the data used is not easily accessed during processing. It’s quite interesting how they have managed to do facial recognition without storing any user data. They also said it was very hard for them to do facial recognition offline which is interesting how they did it offline.

Aside from the technical achievements they have achieved, they have also brought some convenience to people. So it brings us to the important question, would you use this if it was available at KFC outlets in Zimbabwe? If you wouldn’t use it, why would you not use it? If you would use it, why would you use it?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section down below.


  1. Tino

    Thanks, quite interesting.

  2. p

    nxa! ndanga ndaakumhanya ku joina…

  3. PMZ

    Shouldn’t your headline read “Facial recognition for paying”. Good article though.

  4. rodgers

    facial recognition’s is OK as long as I’m not required to smile. I DO NOT WANT to smile. If they make smiling a requirement someone is going to sue eventually. I’m hardly ever in the mood to smile. especially at a stupid machine! I’d also like to have 2 factor authentification of my facial transactions on my phone. Just my phone. The rest of you smileys can grin your way to broke as your smirks are scanned everywhere you go!

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