One of the highlights of Apple’s event last night has been the Face ID feature on the iPhone X, and unsurprisingly, it has got the world talking. First up, Apple’s demo didn’t go off smoothly, as the company’s software chief Craig Federighi failed to unlock the screen in his first attempt. The passcode screen showed up inadvertently, and he had to demonstrate the new feature on a second iPhone X handset. Sections of the Western press are calling it an “embarrassing” attempt.
“For its first iPhone without a home button, Apple wanted to make this feel like a seamless and even more secure transition for consumers and, well, now they’ll have to wait until November to see how well Face ID does or doesn’t work,” The Verge wrote. But more than the event faux pas, the Face ID authentication system seems to have ticked off security enthusiasts who reckon that this is a feature ripe for misuse. While it is superbly designed, it is also slightly unconvincing, and creepy.
“It is exciting but I’m not fully convinced,” Tarun Pathak, Associate Director, Counterpoint Research tells BGR India. “One out of 1 million will probably unlock the phone using Face ID.” ALSO READ: Apple iPhone X India launch on November 3; prices start at Rs 89,000
That is a fairly pessimistic assessment of the iPhone’s most-talked about feature already. And tech analysts aren’t the only one raising concerns. Celebrity whistle-blower Edward Snowden, while praising Face ID’s “robust design” opined that it “normalizes facial scanning, a tech certain to be abused”.
Good: Design looks surprisingly robust, already has a panic disable.
Bad: Normalizes facial scanning, a tech certain to be abused.
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) September 12, 2017
Garry Kasparov, former chess champion and current Chairman of the Human Rights Foundation, wrote, “AI recognition of face, voice, gait, etc., is a real threat in authoritarians states eager to identify protesters. New tech, new challenges.”
AI recognition of face, voice, gait, etc., is a real threat in authoritarians states eager to identify protesters. New tech, new challenges.
— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) September 12, 2017
However, he added, “Technology is agnostic and new tech from the free world will always be abused. Can’t stop progress. Only answer is fewer unfree [sic] states.” The common man in the US is already skeptical about Face ID. “In a society where suspicion alone is considered grounds to bypass rights, beware systems that automate the assignment of suspicion,” said a user. “It is a double-edged sword,” said another.
Essentially, Face ID doesn’t give you the security of a fingerprint scanner or a security code, which are widely used. It raises concerns around surveillance and user privacy. For instance, if a cop arrests you unlawfully or if criminals attack you, they can point your iPhone towards your face and unlock it. With a passcode or a fingerprint scanner, it is never that easy. The only saving grace is that the next iOS 11 upgrade will allow users to disable Face ID logins. Apple also announced that Face ID requires the user’s complete attention to function properly. “If your eyes are closed, if it’s not lined up, it’s not going to work,” Phil Schiller, Apple’s SVP of Worldwide Marketing, explained. ALSO READ: Apple iPhone X launched and the internet has some funny reactions for the new Face ID feature
Some have also asked if the phone could be unlocked by using a picture. In that case, there are greater privacy risks. Apple has denied that such a thing would be possible, and underlines the fact that Face ID is fairly secure because it uses “presence recognition” to ensure it’s really the user himself/herself, and not a photo of him/her. We’ll have to wait until November to know the full implications of the new feature.