China’s largest payments app debuts AI feature that checks if you’re balding

If there’s one thing most of us probably didn’t think to wish for when it comes to ewallet features, it’s an artificial intelligence (AI) “mini app” for detecting baldness. Yet here we are, in a time when Alipay, China’s biggest payments application, has debuted exactly that. 

Like most ewallet/payments applications, Alipay allows users to connect their bank accounts to the app in order to streamline payments both online and at the point of purchase. But Alipay takes things much further than just payments.

Purported to be a “superapp” for locals, Alipay’s many features include ride sharing, mobile phone services, bill payments, coupon and travel services, shopping, and social media functionality.

The app’s newest feature is quite a departure from its other utility-based features: an AI-powered hair loss detector.

According to a report from the South China Morning Post, users can upload pictures of their scalps for processing by an image recognition system trained on thousands of medically-relevant images. The app then gives users suggestions up to and including recommending medical care when applicable.

Alipay — which is built by Antgroup, Alibaba’s fintech subsidiary — unveiled its AI-powered “Medical Assistant” feature back in April of 2024. The new hair loss detector has been added in as part of this suite.

The big idea behind combining a digital wallet application, lifestyle services app, and a medical tool is purportedly for convenience and streamlining. However, while such apps are popular in the east they’ve yet to find similar purchase in Europe and North America.

One proponent for the multimodal, “superapp” concept is Elon Musk. He’s gone on the record numerous times stating that he’d like to become an all-in-one app comparable to offerings from the Chinese market.

But privacy watchdogs across the globe have steadily rung out the warning that such apps consolidate user information in such a way that user privacy and security are subject to the whims of the application’s owner and whatever entities have access to the data.

In the case of Alipay, for example, the Chinese government has made it clear that user data must be available to the government. While there’s no official word on exactly how data is being used, it would ostensibly be a technologically trivial matter to build and operate a database of user activity — essentially creating a real-time citizen activity tracker.

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