Face ID Raises Some Scary Questions, Here Are Some Answers

Apple announced today that its newest phone, the 10-year anniversary iPhone X (or iPhone 10, if you prefer), will unlock using facial recognition — and people are already panicking about it. But it seems like Apple has anticipated a lot of the concerns and we might not need to freak out quite yet.

Facial recognition is just plain creepy, and Apple is going to have an uphill battle convincing consumers that they want to store a complex 3D map of their faces in their phones. After all, facial recognition unlocking has been available for years from Android, Samsung and Windows, but hasn't gained serious market saturation. Faces feel personal in a way that makes us not want to turn them into passwords, and many facial recognition offerings have been susceptible to spoofing with selfies and masks.

In hanging back as other companies push out facial recognition products, Apple has followed the same strategy it has in the past — let competitors make mistakes in the early phases of a new technology, and then roll out its own superior version once its seen all the ways the tech can go wrong.

Apple seems to have anticipated many of the concerns that are spreading across social media. Let's break it down:

Is it gonna be racist?

Major companies have screwed up facial recognition by not building it to function on all skin tones. Remember when Google Photos tagged pictures of black people as gorillas? Or when HP's face-tracking webcams failed to recognise black people at all? These are the kinds of mistakes Apple absolutely has to avoid with Face ID.

We'll have to wait and see how Face ID performs once it's in the hands of consumers, but Apple has put in work to ensure it doesn't end up in an #AppleSoWhite debacle. Face ID is powered by an infrared camera, proximity sensor, flood illuminator, ambient light sensor and dot projector which work together to create a 3D map of the contours of your face. The system is designed to look at face shapes, even in low light, so hopefully it won't make the same mistakes as its predecessors in the facial recognition field.

What if I get arrested?

Given the amount of personal information we keep on our phones, it's no wonder that we're uncomfortable with the idea of a cop rummaging through that data.

So what happens if you get arrested and a cop holds your phone up to your face?

Fortunately, the US Supreme Court decided this isn't cool back in 2014. In Riley v. California, the justices unanimously ruled that police have to get a warrant if they want to search your phone from incident to arrest. So if they're going to dig through your device, they will at least have to convince a judge that there's a reason to do so. The position in Australia is less well-defined, but it's likely that Australian courts will look to overseas cases for guidance.

Now this doesn't mean that cops always follow the law — we know they don't! If you're using Touch ID, you might be forced to put your finger on your phone and unlock it, and the same holds true for Face ID.

If you're worried about being arrested (and hey, you might be worried for non-criminal reasons, such as participating in a protest), there's a nice new feature in iOS 11 that lets you quickly disable Touch ID, and we're guessing it works for FaceID, too. You can also go into your settings under "Touch ID and Passcode" and turn off biometric unlocking.

What if Apple does something shitty with my biometric data?

One of the things that makes facial recognition so creepy is the idea that your image will wind up in a database somewhere, being sold to advertisers or scoured by spy agencies.

Apple anticipated this concern with Touch ID and did a few things to make its storage of biometric data more palatable. For starters, your biometric data — whether its your fingerprint or your face — never leaves your device. Instead, it's stored in an encrypted form in your phone's Secure Enclave, where it can't be accessed by your operating system or any of the apps running on your phone.

Furthermore, what's stored in the Secure Enclave isn't actually your fingerprint or a picture of your face. As Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller explained today during the keynote, Face ID uses your image and dot pattern to create a mathematical model of your face. That's how Touch ID works, too, and that mathematical model can't be reverse-engineered to reveal your actual fingerprint.

What if I'm taking a nap?

Sometimes the person you want to keep out of your phone the most isn't a cop or a corporation, but your significant other. At Gizmodo, we don't think there's any shame in keeping some stuff private from whoever you're dating.

With Touch ID, some users worried that their boo would sneak up on them while they were sleeping and use their finger to unlock their phone.

Face ID is supposed to improve on this by requiring "user attention". Basically, this means you have to have your eyes open and make eye contact with your phone to get it to unlock. There may be ways around this — one of my Gizmodo coworkers asked what would happen if you peeled back your drunk buddy's eyelids while he was passed out and pointed his phone at his face — but we'll have to wait and see. Just don't get hammered at our office and you should be safe. Apple's Schiller also warned that Face ID could be fooled by your evil twin, so keep your phone away from that guy.

What if I look stupid using it?

When rumours started to swirl about Apple's forthcoming announcement of Face ID, I figured the biggest threat to widespread adoption would be people worrying about looking dumb. I definitely don't want to wave my phone around like I'm trying to catch a good selfie every time I need to check my text messages.

Fortunately, Apple appears to have gone for a more subtle approach. In the demo today, Apple showed that users will have to show all angles of their face during setup, so you should be able to glance down at your phone to unlock it rather than lining it up directly in front of your face like an idiot.

However, it isn't clear just how well this is gonna work. FaceID failed on Apple's senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi during an onstage demo, leaving him to type in his passcode, so we'll see how the double-chin angle works for unlocking once iPhone X hits the market.

WATCH MORE: Tech News


Comments

    Will it work with sunglasses on?

    It doesn't work when your eyes are closed - will tinted sunnies have a similar effect?

      That's a big one, I have all my sunnies in my Windows Hello profile, but I know it probably means my siblings could unlock my PC wearing my sunnies.

      Also the only preferred use case I could think of over touchID is wearing a helmet. If it can unlock for me in my helmet so I can use Siri with non lock screen apps, that would actually appeal to me. No more "you need to unlock your iPhone to...."

      I can't see how it would work with sunnies if it won't work when your eyes are closed.

      Excellent question. Looking forward to seeing how it works in practice.

    How will you prove that a cop unlocked without your consent. That issue will become a major one.

    Can I bypass your phone's security by using a photo of you?

      That was already answered. But if you are using Samsungs phone, then yes.

        Was trying to fool my mate's Samsung S8 with a photo, no joy.

        Would still prefer fingerprints over face recognition though, thankfully the S8 has both so you can choose.

    So if a cop holds your phone up to your face just close your eyes.

    What happens if you sit your phone in a dock at work and it's constantly facing you? Does the phone continuously unlock itself or do you need to press the power button first?

      You have to touch the screen to work the phone before it will attempt an unlock.

    LOL! "What if I get arrested?"... What if I get in a horrible accident and my face gets wrecked?!? WHAT IF I FIND MYSELF IN A JOHN TRAVOLTA FACE OFF SITUATION?!? IS NICHOLAS CAGE GOING TO BE ABLE TO USE MY PHONE??

    For the record, he didn't end up putting in his password, he just went to the backup phone which worked

    Law enforcement: I don't have all my fingers connected to touch ID. If forced to unlock my phone, I know how many times I have to try with the wrong fingers go disable touch ID.

    Will you look stupid using it? Yes. The only people I have seen using facial recognition for payment on android all looked awkward as crap. Pull out your phone, press some buttons to activate, then stare at it like a gimp to authenticate? If people feel awkward or embarrassed using the phone for mobile payment, or feel the process has more steps than just getting out their credit card to tap, they won't use it.

    apple play up how much they value our privacy yet they keep telling us they need to collect our most personal data. Finger prints? and now scanning our face? will DNA be next?

    I dont need some mega corporation to have such detail about me.

      Apple never gets the data, it stays on the phone.

      They don't have our fingerprint details. They won't have our facial details. That information is stored in the "secure enclave" of the phone, and not transmitted anywhere to anyone.

      They're not "collecting" anything. Do a little reading.

    If you have two seconds before you are about to be arrested then you can power down your device which forces it, once you restart it, to ask you for your passcode before it will allow the use of touchID and presumably faceID.

    Security tip - make your passcode longer than 4 digits.

    Does it squirt water in your face, like in the lead photo?

      Yes, thats the new Misting feature for those hot summer months.

    Surely my evil twin would have to shave off his goatee to access my phone?

    In iphone 10, is it mandatory to activate face recognition to enter into the phone or it can be operated bypassing this feature?

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