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How Alohar hopes to 'fingerprint' the way you walk for new authentication tool

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We've all heard of and maybe even used fingerprint scanners and iris recognition devices for authentication. But here's a new one: Alohar Mobile has figured out a way to use the sensors in mobile phones to create a profile of the unique way that you walk, using that "fingerprint" for authentication.

Alohar Mobile, a company started by an architect of Google's Location Server Platform and now owned by Alibaba, received a patent for the process in November last year.

"The motion when you walk is different between every person," said Sam Liang, Alohar's founder and CEO. "We have a system that allows the payment system to use the location tracking and the motion sensor to authenticate and detect fraud." Liang spoke on Tuesday in Seattle at a panel discussion hosted by Chetan Sharma Consulting.

The patent describes a host of patterns that Alohar can collect as a way of identifying the person using the phone. "The speed/cadence/pace at which the mobile user normally walks is a unique biometric signal which can be identified by the accelerometer, gyroscope and/or GPS," the patent reads. "Another motion pattern includes the 'bounce' of the mobile device in a person's pocket, bag or purse as they walk or run, which is also a unique biometric signal. The motion trail as a person reaches for their mobile device in a pocket (or purse or briefcase) and moves the device to their ear (and the angle they hold the mobile device) is a unique biometric pattern, which can be identified by the accelerometer and gyroscope."

In the patent, Alohar describes many other patterns about users that it could collect. For instance, a user might take a certain route every work day morning to the coffee shop and then on to work, staying at each place for a predictable amount of time most days.

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After collecting data about a user's movements, the system would create a profile of the user. When the person tries to use the phone to buy something in a store, the system would compare the user's profile against the recent movements of the person using the phone, making sure they match. If they don't, the retailer can ask the user for additional forms of identification. The system could work similarly for ecommerce transactions.

Alohar believes that the technology could improve on current generation authentication systems. "The described embodiments enable mobile devices to build a system or platform of performing value-added security, access control and authentication functions that can increase the probability that fraudulent transactions are blocked and legitimate transactions are authorized," the patent reads. "In other words, the described embodiments increase the number and percentage of legitimate transactions, which would be blocked by old systems of fraud detection, and increases the number and percentage of blocked fraudulent transactions, which would be authorized by the old systems."

The patent describes other uses for the profiling system beyond authentication. For instance, it describes a scenario where if a user often goes to an elementary school or a day care center, the service could send targeted advertising or information about kid related events to the user.

While Liang said it will create some demo apps for end users, it instead hopes to offer its platform to developers who can create their own apps using Alohar's platform. It doesn't have any takers yet for the system that measures your walk for authentication purposes. 

In the future, he hopes to be able to collect even more data from more kinds of devices, like fitness trackers and health monitors. "In the future, the phone will be able to tell, are you happy or depressed based on the way you walk, the speed you move around, the way you swing the phone," he predicted. 

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