Facial Recognition: The Real Question

"This is dangerous. What if my wife uses this to unlock my phone while I'm sleeping !!"

The first reaction every married guy possibly had after the iPhone X launch event. Every single social media you look up and this was present with the never ending innuendos and countless jokes popping by the minute. Ranging from taking pot shots at the insanely high pricing to Game of Thrones to the every situation matching jokes of married couples.

Jokes apart, Apple does hire qualified and intelligent engineers and has likely spent billions in research to ensure that the security of the device is not easily breached :) and while the device takes numerous factors into account like features, 3D surfaces, open eyes (yes it cannot be unlocked asleep) and other factoring to determine whether it is actually the matching human and not a photo or a wax statue.

Facial Recognition has its own set of advantages and will undoubtedly be the tech flavor or the season (alongside bezel-less displays) till the masses get bored and demand something new to play with. Also, with Apple having added this to its prized iPhone (even though Samsung has had it for a few years now), others will follow suit (read Chinese mobile players).

The technology does overcome shortcomings of fingerprint scanners where wet fingers and gloves in winters became a hindrance. It maps out the known structural factors of the face to correctly identify and with the growing improvements in front camera (thanks to the selfie craze), it is almost as quick as the fingerprint scanner.

The real question is in the security of the data saved and used for the actual unlocking. Apple claims that this information just like the fingerprint information is saved locally on the device for added security and has denied all claims that information is saved on remote servers. While in the short term this sounds good enough, a good at the Terms and Conditions of the device does state that the content on the phone is present on an Apple IP and managed by Apple on your behalf. This is something we always skip and activate the device. Of course you are excited to set up your new device and do not have the patience to read through long sets of boring text which is part of the Terms and Conditions.

Device security experts and privacy advocates raised this issue with Apple. Fair enough, for now the content is stored on the device, but the caveat still exists that in the future for optimisation purposes or for other operational/logistical purposes Apple decides to move this information to remote servers, what happens to the security guarantee. We all know that no technology is truly hacker proof and the celebrity iCloud hacks and personal (read nude) photos leaked online, we know Apple isn't 100% safe. And if a corporate tech giant like Apple cannot be trusted what about the Chinese competitors who are safer the same at a cheaper cost with a cheaper setup.

Now you may say what if the data is leaked or stolen, what are the implications. This is personal information that is used to uniquely identify you. With current technology progress, this data can be used with surveillance cameras to track you. Sold to advertisers to track your movements and customise things for you (which sound OK, but the fact that you are being inadvertently stalked is scary - you do not know who is watching you when). This is a major privacy risk and a genuine concern raised by the security and privacy experts at the Apple event. 

While Apple took the defensive route of sticking to the fact that for them security is first and they would never allow this to be leaked, we all know that it is only a matter of time.

Facial Recognition - Good or Bad? only time will tell. While the technology is good and helpful and "cool", when it comes to your personal information, you can never be too careful. Especially in today's age when digital information is the new gold and cyber crime is on the rise. While it is OK to want to and use the latest tech (its inevitable - I will surely try it too), always make sure that you never read details on updates surrounding this feature and never, I stress, never agree to having this information stored on a remote location like Apple servers or any other provider's servers. Call me a sceptic, but the first step to your safety is with you and you alone.

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