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Everything at your fingertips: Gov't to test biometric ID-based shopping system

In this photo provided by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, a fingerprint verification system for making purchases is seen during testing in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Foreign visitors to Japan may soon be shopping up a storm using only their fingertips to make their purchases, as the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is looking to roll out a retail transaction system based on biometric verification technology.

    Under the system, foreign visitors would register their fingerprints or finger vein patterns among other personal information with the service and then deposit a set amount of money in a connected account. They could then make purchases at participating shops simply by putting their fingers on the fingerprint or finger vein reader at the cash register.

    The economy ministry has included 900 million yen in the second fiscal 2016 supplementary budget draft to cover the program, and is set to conduct a field trial from October to February next year in Kanagawa, Osaka, and Fukuoka prefectures. A fingerprint recognition system will be used in the Kanagawa Prefecture hot spring resorts of Hakone and Yugawara, while a finger vein ID system will be tried out in Osaka. The ministry hopes the technology will reduce the need for tourists to carry cash and credit cards around, and thus the risk of losing them.

    The biometric verification technology -- able to identify the purchaser almost instantly -- in the shops will be provided by the tech startup Liquid and other firms. The government is also planning to substitute passport checks at hotel check-in with a fingerprint scan system this fiscal year, and if this system is linked to the biometric purchase verification, visitors could both shop and pay for their accommodations without cash or a credit card.

    The economy ministry is also planning to analyze the data provided by visitors using the system, including age group and gender, in combination with their purchase histories to determine consumption trends and the particular shopping tendencies of certain nationalities. The goal is to provide very specifically tailored hospitality to foreign visitors in the lead up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and thereby encourage them to spend more in Japan.

    The ministry is aiming to conduct test runs of the biometric shopping system in each region of Japan over the next three years, with a private sector rollout in fiscal 2019 or later.

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