7 companies that know who you are

In addition to the tech giants, many other companies are developing their own biometric solutions. Here’s our selection.

Image: In August 2019, a young individual registers his two irises, in Barpeta, India, to enter the National Register of Citizens as part of the Aadhaar project to which the Japanese company NEC contributed.

By Bertrand Beauté

  • Foundation: 1986
  • Headquarter: BEDFORD (US)
  • Revenues: $16 MILLION
  • Effectives: 85
  • Stock Exchange:

In late July, the Miami Valley Regional Crime Laboratory announced that it had selected the biometrics software Aware ABIS (Automated Biometric Identification System) to help it solve crimes. Hosted in the cloud, this software can identify people based on their fingerprints, palm, face or iris. 

With this contract, various Aware technologies are now used in 26 of 50 US states. In addition to helping the police, Aware software is also used to verify identities at border crossings and for payment processing and other financial services. According to the company’s figures, Aware’s software is used by approximately 100 companies around the world and 80 government agencies. In the first half of 2023, however, revenue was down, only reaching $7.49 million compared to $8.93 million a year earlier (-16%). This is due to a drop in sales of software licences, whereas recurring revenue from maintaining software that has already been sold has remained nearly constant. While Aware hasn’t stated the reason for its sales slump, the company believes it is only temporary and is expecting a 15% increase in its revenue for the year 2023 compared to 2022.

  • Foundation: 1993
  • Headquarter: DELAWARE (US)
  • Revenues: $7 MILLION
  • Effectives: 50
  • Stock Exchange:

An end to passwords: that’s the aim of US startup Bio-Key. To ensure information security, many companies require their employees to change their passwords regularly – a burden that can be counter-productive. Since employees can’t remember constantly changing passwords, they often write them down on paper and leave them lying on their desks, or forget them, and then they have to go to the helpdesk to get a new one. To solve that problem, Bio-Key has developed fingerprint scanners that are directly connected to computers, eliminating the need for passwords. 

Some of the company’s clients include local governments such as the city of Sacramento, universities (Unity College) and banks such as the First National Bank of Long Island. Over the course of 2022, Bio-Key’s revenue was up 37% compared to 2021, reaching $7 million. The only analyst that follows the company recommends purchasing shares.

  • Foundation: 1997
  • Headquarter: GÖTEBORG (SE)
  • Revenues: SEK 861.8 MILLION
  • Effectives: 200
  • Stock Exchange:

Very few people know of Swedish company Fingerprint Cards. And yet each day, billions of people place their finger on a scanner sold by this company. Fingerprints develops complete bio metrics systems that include the fingerprint scanner, microcontroller units (MCUs), an algorithm and software. These products are then integrated into smartphones and tablets, particularly for brands such as Xiaomi, Huawei, Motorola and Google, as well as computers from Lenovo, Acer and Asus. In total, more than 700 smartphone and tablet models sold around the world are equipped with sensors made by Fingerprint Cards. 

As a result, the drop in global smartphone sales, which fell 11.3% in 2022 to 1.2 billion units compared to 1.39 billion a year earlier, had a catastrophic effect on Fingerprints’ revenue. In 2022, this stood at 861.8 million Swedish krona, compared to 1.356 billion in 2021 (-36%). To reduce its dependence on the consumer electronics sector, Fingerprints is trying to diversify, particularly in the fingerprint-based payment industry. Ten banks around the world have launched fingerprint-based payments using the Swedish company’s system and 24 others are currently testing the technology, including BNP Paribas, Royal Bank of Scotland and Bank Pocztowy. 

  • Foundation: 1996
  • Headquarter: OSLO (NO)
  • Revenues: $4.1 MILLION
  • Effectives: 100
  • Stock Exchange:

COVID has made it a common practice: when paying in a shop, we generally no longer enter a PIN code, but simply hold the card near the terminal and the transaction is completed automatically. But while contactless payment has become widespread in recent years, it does bring up security concerns. Anyone can pay using someone else’s card. To solve this problem, Norwegian startup Idex Biometrics has developed a fingerprint sensor that is integrated into payment cards. In order to make a payment, users must place a finger on the sensor at the same time to be officially authenticated. Without the owner’s fingerprint, the payment will not be processed. More than 20 payment card manufacturers around the world, representing 2.5 billion cards, are currently working on developing biometric payment cards. 

Twelve of these companies, representing one billion cards, have selected technology from Idex Biometrics, including Japanese giant Toshiba, French firm Idemia and Austria’s Tag Systems. Currently, nine banks around the world have launched bio metrics payment cards with Idex technology, including Italian bank Sella, Sweden’s Rocker, and First Abu Dhabi Bank from the United Arab Emirates. This market is new, but already booming. In the first half of the year, Idex’s revenue has increased 29% compared to the same period last year.

  • Foundation: 1899
  • Headquarter: TOKYO (JP)
  • Revenues: $27.02 BILLION
  • Effectives: 117,000
  • Stock Exchange:

For the second consecutive year, the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan ranked NEC Corporation as the global leader in biometric authentication solutions in February 2023. The Japa nese conglomerate controls the entire value chain (from sensors to software) in six different biometric authentication methods (facial recognition, iris recognition, fingerprint and palm recognition, voice recognition and ear authentication), which covers the entire market.

One of the company’s most significant projects is its participation in the largest multi-biometric identification programme in the world: the Aadhaar project in India. Launched in 2010, this programme aims to provide 1.4 billion Indians (17% of the global population!) with a unique 12-digit identification number in a country where, until now, most residents didn’t have an ID.

But before they can receive this incredibly important document, which is required to open a bank account, each person must provide three forms of biometric data: all 10 fingerprints, both irises and a photo of their face. The cost of this massive project is estimated at $1.4 billion, split primarily between two companies: French group Safran, which handles 75% of all applications via its subsidiaries Safran Identity & Security and L1; and NEC, which handles the remaining 25%. While almost all of the Indian population now has an Aadhaar Card, this programme remains controversial, particularly because the Indian government launched a call for bids to implement a facial recognition system which would link the massive Aadhaar database, containing facial data on the entire population, to the national surveillance camera network.

  • Foundation: 2014
  • Headquarter: HONG KONG (CN)
  • Revenues: CNY 3.81 BILLION
  • Effectives: 5,000
  • Stock Exchange:

"SenseTime is watching you!" If you had to pick one company that summed up every fear about biometrics, it might well be Chinese group SenseTime. Founded in 2014, the company creates facial and image recognition apps and artificial intelligence algorithms that are used to monitor crowds and verify identities. SenseTime’s cameras and software are able to identify a person or detect "undesirable" behaviour such as smoking, fighting or crossing outside a pedestrian crossing, from 100 metres away. In a country that has on average one surveillance camera for every three people, the Chinese government is SenseTime’s primary client, generating nearly half of the company’s revenue. 

The Zhengzhou police have also used SenseTime’s smart glasses equipped with facial recognition software since 2018. The problem is that this mass surveillance concerns people, particularly as SenseTime filed a patent in July 2019 for a technology that could identify Uyghurs based on common facial features of the ethnic group from northwest China. Since then, SenseTime has been blacklisted in the United States, which means it cannot import components or technologies from the country. Washington believes that SenseTime’s facial recognition cameras were used in police monitoring and repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

  • Foundation: 2000
  • Headquarter: COURBEVOIE (FR)
  • Revenues: €17.6 BILLION
  • Effectives: 77,000
  • Stock Exchange:

"The start of 2023 confirms that all of our businesses are doing very well, with organic growth in revenue ahead of our annual objective, driven in particular by activity in the aeronautics and biometrics sectors." As Thales CEO Patrice Caine said in May, biometrics has become a vital industry in recent years for the French technology and defence group. While in 2022 the Identity and Digital Security division only made up 20% of the company’s revenue, it had the highest growth by far (+21% between 2021 and 2022), whereas the other two divisions, Aerospace and Defence, only grew 5.4% and 6% respectively. 

In the biometrics industry, Thales is essentially everywhere. The company produces facial recognition systems, as well as fingerprint and iris recognition systems. Thales has sold its Border Automated Biometric System technology to several airports, including Bogota El Dorado (Colombia), London Heathrow (United Kingdom) and Paris Charles de Gaulle (France). According to consulting firm Marketsand Markets, the global biometrics market for border control is expected to reach $2.1 billion in 2023 and $3.9 billion in 2028. In this sector, Thales competes with French company Idemia, Dutch firm Sita, Portugal’s Vision-Box (all of which are private), German company Secunet Security Networks and Japan’s NEC Corporation. In addition to working in the travel industry, Thales also employs its biometrics systems in sectors such as government, healthcare, finance, hotels, casinos and the gambling industry. Most analysts recommend buying Thales shares, which have risen 10% since the start of the year.