Decoding Apple’s Face ID
The Apple iPhone X introduces a new biometric authentication method which requires facial recognition to unlock your smartphone. It is called Face ID. This succeeds the fingerprint-based biometric technology we had seen in the iPhones for many years now, called Touch ID. Essentially, with Face ID, your iPhone scans your face using the TrueDepth camera which sits just above the phone’s screen and matches as many as 30,000 dots to make a reference mathematical model of the face being scanned to match it with the face you told Face ID was yours when setting up the iPhone X.
The Face ID tech is artificially intelligent too, and will learn your face as it goes along. For instance, it’ll perhaps not get stumped by some extra beard on your face, or a haircut, or if you are wearing a hat, because it has multiple other reference points to match in such a case. The A11 Bionic chip’s neural engine will scan your face to match various parameters.
This isn’t the first phone to have facial detection as a security method. Google added the “Face Unlock” feature to its Android operating system as far back as 2011, and it was dependent on phone makers to use this on their devices. Samsung, however, made a big push with facial recognition technology with the recent Samsung Galaxy S8 and the Galaxy S8+ smartphones.
Apple stayed away from the technology all this while. Maybe the reason was that over time, it has often been reported that both systems are prone to getting conned. For instance, the system could be tricked eventually by showing them a photograph of the person’s face—the system thought it was the user’s real face and unlocked the phone from the secure lock screen to the home screen which allowed anyone access to the phone’s apps and data.
This is where Face ID is potentially a bit different. Apple says that Face ID has been tuned in such a way that even if the TrueDepth cameras detect your face, the iPhone X will still not unlock. In fact, Face ID, apart from the mathematical calculations, also detects how attentive you are when looking at the phone. If you happen to be casually looking in the direction of the phone but not actually intent on unlocking it, Face ID won’t unlock the device.
Also, because of the artificial intelligence in tow, Face ID is better prepared against being conned by a 3D mask, a photograph or even a selfie of you taken on another phone.
Unlike the biometric data accumulation that other tech giants, including Facebook, do with the intent of building a database, Apple actually doesn’t. Your facial recognition data remains on the phone, and not on the cloud.
It is still far too early in the Face ID’s life cycle to put a definitive verdict on it. However, while there seems to be a definite plan to improve on the shortcomings of the facial recognition tech in smartphones thus far, this may still not be as foolproof as it might be in a few years from now—with more artificial and real-world learning under its belt.