Alipay, WeChat Pay, Bank of China pull fingerprint tech on Samsung devices

Chinese financial service providers including Alipay, WeChat Pay, and Bank of China withdrew the fingerprint authentication feature from their apps on several Samsung smartphone and tablet devices known to be affected by a glitch in the sensor.

Why it matters: Samsung’s security snafu comes as its China operations are on the decline.

  • The company’s market share for handsets in China has dropped sharply from 20% in 2013 to 1% in the first quarter of the year, and appear to account for less than 1% in Q2 as indicated by figures from Counterpoint Data.
  • Earlier this month, the Korean smartphone maker closed its last factory in China amid intensified competition from Chinese brands like Huawei and Xiaomi.
  • Samsung is the world’s “leading manufacturing enterprise” and shutting its doors in China will have a major impact on local phone factories, according to a South China Morning Post report citing Liu Kaiming, the head of the Institute of Contemporary Observation, a labor NGO.

Details: After Samsung confirmed on October 17 reports about the glitch in its fingerprint reader, a number of bank and payment apps in China, the UK, South Korea, and Israel temporarily disabled the fingerprint authentication feature, warned users to disable the feature on their smartphones, or have pulled support for the feature from their apps.

  • The flaw in the ultrasonic fingerprint reader allows anyone to access the mobile device if the display is covered with certain third-party screen protectors.
  • Bank of China issued a statement on October 19 about disabling the fingerprint authentication on the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy Note 10 smartphones, as well as the Tab S6 tablet.
  • Samsung users in China reported that the function has also been disabled on Alipay and WeChat Pay, according to Sina News.
  • Samsung acknowledged the issue on Thursday and confirmed the vulnerability affects several models including Galaxy Note 10, Note 10+, S10, S10+, and S10 5G. The smartphone maker said that a software patch to fix the glitch will be rolled out soon.
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Context: The Korean electronics conglomerate topped the chart in global smartphone shipments in the second quarter of 2019 despite its shrinking share of the China market.

  • Earlier this month, researchers at Google’s security group disclosed that they had discovered a zero-day flaw in Android that affects several popular smartphone models including Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi, and Google.

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