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This guest post is by Zoe Cohen.
Facial recognition has been around for a long time. Ever since cell phones became the nexus of so many of our lives, security has been an issue. Originally, there was no security at all. But then companies started implementing (or at least offering) password protection. This is great, but it can take a while to type. Hence the introduction of the pin password and the shape-tracing password (grid of dots where you create your own pattern connecting at least 4 dots). The problem with this is that it’s pretty easy to hack. Someone just needs to catch a glimpse of you typing or tracing your password in, and your security’s broken. Enter the TouchID (fingerprint identification). This has become a widespread security method on phones with varying degrees of success. Sometimes it can be unwieldy or unresponsive if your finger isn’t positioned just so. And while this introduces a heightened level of security, it can still technically be hacked if someone makes a copy of your fingerprint. That is why Apple’s latest iPhone comes with Face ID, its facial recognition software.
In the last post, we talked about how Apple’s new Face ID technology works and why infrared facial recognition is so effective. To catch up, read about the Facial Recognition Technology Behind Face ID.
But the revelation of this technology leads to some very valid questions. If it’s so easy to use, isn’t it also very easy to abuse? Luckily for us, Apple made sure to think this bit of technology through completely before unleashing it on the world. Here are some of the safeguards they put in place to prevent someone from unlocking your iPhone by using your face without your knowledge or permission.
I know we went over infrared waves and how they’re used in the last article, but for a quick reminder, infrared illustrates energy emission (i.e., a release of heat). Since it’s based on heat and not visual signifiers of your face, no one could just take a photo of you and hold it up on your phone to unlock your phone. Along similar lines, if someone was really determined to use the facial recognition software to break into your phone, had a lot of time on their hands, and decided for some reason to make a mask of your face to wear and try to trick your phone (I’m sure there are much easier ways to break into a phone, but why rain on their parade?), even if it’s 3-D in all the right places, the infrared pattern wouldn’t track to yours, and the iPhone wouldn’t unlock.
In another, much lower-effort hypothetical, if someone wanted to try to unlock your phone by holding your phone up to your face without you noticing (maybe you’re really really engrossed in that celebrity gossip website – no judgment here), they would also be foiled by Apple’s built-in attention awareness software. This means that just exposing the iPhone to your face wouldn’t be enough to break into the phone. The facial recognition software has to also recognize that you’re paying attention to the phone based on your gaze. If you’re looking elsewhere, the phone won’t unlock. But if you’re looking straight at the phone (communicating that you’re paying attention to it and are aware of its being right in front of you), the iPhone will unlock without hassle, no questions asked.
So not only is it a lot easier to unlock your iPhone, but it’s a lot safer and more secure as well.