What is up with Facial Recognition Technology?

The announcement of the iPhone X, whose keynote during the presentation was precisely the top-notch facial recognition technology, there is a lot of buzz flying around.  This sparked a lot of reactions and comments between those who consider the technology as the next great thing to prevent phone theft and those who believe there are still some challenges to overcome.

Facial recognition is becoming more and more common, actually.  But if you ask anyone how to get on top of it, easy, they’ll say, just cover your face.  If the technology is applied to unlocking a phone, just like the iPhone X, this can bring some security issues and even problems with wearing heavy makeup or getting a plastic surgery.

Does it Really Work?

During the presentation of Apple’s most expensive iPhone ever, there was a pretty embarrassing glitch.  During the first-time public use (or attempt) of face ID feature, Apple executive Craig Federighi was not able to get it started and had to use password unlock, which is what the phone will do when the face is not recognized.

This brought about doubts about if the technology works.  Apple then explained themselves after the little issue stating that it was not the device that failed but the staff did.  “People were handling the device for stage demo ahead of time,” an Apple spokesperson told Yahoo, “and didn’t realize Face ID was trying to authenticate their face. After failing a number of times, because they weren’t Craig, the iPhone did what it was designed to do, which was to require his passcode. Face ID worked as it was designed to.”

This statement from the company eased some skeptics.  We still believe there is a long way to go with this technology but we can’t wait to see how Apple has overcome the difficulties.

Some weaknesses of Facial Recognition Technology

From what we know so far, this technology is still far from perfect.  Here are some pros and cons with facial recognition technology.

  • The viewing angle still struggles.  It works good full front and even with a 20-degree angle, but problems start when you go full profile.
  • Face recognition often misreads a person’s face and this could lead to controversy. Google took a storm hit after their face ID technology mistakenly confused a couple of black persons with two gorillas.
  • The fact that the technology is usually tested in racial majorities, the fact that it struggles to recognize minorities also sparks controversy.
  • Systems get less effective if the expression changes.  Basically, if you smile, for instance, the tech will probably have a hard time identifying your face.
  • If a person has a covered face, current face ID technology would not be able to recognize them.  However, work towards improving this is taking place.

A Privacy Disaster on the Horizon?

Of course, there are privacy issues and related events that might also be implied in this technology.  Take for example that a phone that unlocks with face recognition has to always be on.  Meaning that it can be unlocked even if it is just resting on a table.  Senior Staff Attorney Adam Schwartz from Electronic Frontier Foundation explains that this “always on” features means always gathering information.

“Once the always-on device gathers information, it may be available to many kinds of people, contrary to the user’s intentions,” Schwartz said.

The fact that the camera is always on is going to be a privacy issue.  Why?  Because your device can pickup unwanted data that in the future could get you in trouble.  This is like Amazon’s Echo, which is always on and can accidentally pick up stuff and make it available to third parties.


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