Apple’s Use of Face Recognition in the New iPhone: Implications

from ACLU

Apple unveiled its new iPhone X Tuesday, and it will include extensive face recognition capabilities. Face recognition (as I have discussed) is one of the more dangerous biometrics from a privacy standpoint, because it can be leveraged for mass tracking across society. But Apple has a proven record of achieving widespread acceptance for technologies that it incorporates into its phones. So what are we to think of this new deployment?

The first question is whether the technology will be successful. Face and iris recognition technology incorporated into some other phones (such as Samsung’s) has widely been seen as insecure and/or impractical. In recent years Apple has acquired several face recognition companies, and the company claims the new phones’ capabilities will include the ability to measure 30,000 infrared, three-dimensional points on a user’s face, the ability to distinguish a real face from photographs and masks, and extremely low false-positive and false-negative rates. But only time will tell if people find the face recognition functionality on this and other phones to be practical enough for widespread adoption.

Even if it is successful, some of the first-order privacy implications of Apple’s new deployment can be overblown?—?mainly, the collection of user face data through the iPhone unlocking function. First, Apple has said that the face recognition data will be stored locally on users’ phones, and not transmitted to a central database. Second, for the time being there are far bigger, more comprehensive collections of individuals’ photographs, including the state DMV databases, and photo databases maintained by the State Department and Customs and Border Protection, not to mention Facebook and Google, which store billions of photographs. For mass-surveillance purposes, those photographs would probably serve just as well as Apple’s 3-D face maps.

Of course, whatever promises Apple makes today could be rolled back in the future, not to mention ignored by other companies if the technology becomes standard. Our big worry is that face recognition will be used to identify and tag people in new, privacy-invasive contexts, leading ultimately perhaps to a pervasive system of identification that tracks Americans in their every movement. Face recognition from mobile phone unlocking could certainly in the future become a key part of such a surveillance infrastructure.

Still, at the end of the day, while storage of face templates for phone unlocking is what worries many people up front, that is not an immediate threat.

More here.

Posted in Business, Ethics, Innovation, Technology and tagged , , , , , .


  1. Phone companies seem to be constantly changing the way that phones are unlocked. I think that since phones are always being stolen phone companies are trying to make phone accessibility harder to achieve because when a thief steals a phone they have the ability to steal important information from people. I do not think that face recognition is a bad thing it is just another way of entering a password into a device.
    I can understand how some people facial recognition as an invasion of privacy. During facial recognition a phone is assessing all of your facial characteristics. The iPhone is essentially taking your photo every time you get into your phone and is essentially recording as well. Facial recognition will probably not blossom as much as how people think it would because people facial features can change over time. Objects like Alexa and this new feature seem to be invading little bit because they really infringe on people.
    I personally think that apple makes really good products because they are stylish and innovative. Since the Fifth Amendment does protect against the act of incriminating oneself or exposing oneself to prosecution, especially by giving evidence or testimony maybe the people who are using this phone would become less likely to commit crimes because the new phone feature constantly records.
    Facial recognition is not much different from touch id which is used at many facilities and in many other electronics. People who are not comfortable with the idea of having facial recognition on their phones for privacy purposes should not purchase the iPhone x.
    The iPhone X allows people to disable the feature. I do not think that facial recognition is a problem or a threat to people’s privacy.

  2. As time goes on, we are always introduced to new technologies that change the way we live and the ways things are done. Often times, it doesn’t fit within the current regulation or standard of things and society has to figure out how to adapt to it, improve it, and ultimately use it. This is evident with technology capable of reading biometrics to unlock devices. When Apple released Touch ID on the iPhone 5S in 2013, there were concerns of whether the technology was accurate, and whether the NSA or government, or even if Apple collected it and shared it with other companies. The same questions go for Face ID, which replaced touch ID on the iPhone X unveiled in 2017. Touch ID 2.0 was released with the iPhone 6S in 2015 and works faster and more accurate and secure. Face ID is the most secure, using 30,000 infrared dots coming from a dot projector and an infrared camera to take a picture of your face with the dots to create a very detailed map of your face. So the security of your phone is answered, but what about the other implications? Questions concerning their subjectivity to search warrants, and mass surveillance remain unknown. Also questions arise over virtual assistants like Siri, which can have an always-on nature, as to whether they can be used to spy on conversations, since a device’s microphone is always on waiting patiently for its wake word or phrase. The ACLU brings up several good points on the implications of Face ID and face recognition technology including whether the technology can be utilized by other apps and companies and how advertising reliant companies like Google and Facebook may not embrace the same privacy policies Apple has. For example, research done by Carnegie Mellon showed that some companies might be able to pair face recognition with social media to develop apps that can identify people walking around in public. Other points of concern brought up is if it is protected by law enforcement needing a search warrant to gain access to a device using facial recognition and if other apps can have access to the camera and face ID technology even if a user turned it off. As time goes on, society will always have to adapt to the new advances and figure out how to properly use and apply it, just as author Bhu Srinivasan used the analogy of operating systems needing to change as the hardware changes.

  3. Technological advancement has made a significant impact on the world and will continue to do so. This can be seen in Apple’s use of face recognition in the new iPhone X. And, while many Apple users are excited to begin using this hi-tech device to see all the benefits that come with this new iPhone capability, I am hesitant due to seeing the negative impact it can and will have on societies soon. You see, although the ACLU National organization emphasizes a strong prediction that the facial recognition is more than likely going to be a success, it was stated that “some of the first-order privacy implications of Apple’s new deployment can be overblown” (ACLU 3). Concerns of people’s personal information being leaked to law enforcement, having users vulnerable to becoming profiled, or even being under constant surveillance, increases feelings of paranoia which is a likely result to this new iPhone capability.

    Moreover, Apple’s launch of face recognition is concerning because of their expectancy to socialize Americans for the acceptance of being recorded as a normal thing. In other words, Apple is trying to make others get comfortable with being watched because that is what we are heading towards as a nation. Yet, comfort levels seem to have dropped with the masses due to the high chances of their personal data getting into the wrong hands and being leaked. The ACLU organization states that, “there is no case law on whether a person’s facial imprint is protected under a probable cause warrant standard and…the warrant requirements doesn’t apply to certain other data”(ACLU) Furthermore, if the facial recognition is enabled, it basically implies that the camera is always on, giving the government open access and an opportunity to store vital information without the proper consent. The Apple incorporation website states that “The probability that a random person in the population could look at your iPhone X and unlock it using Face ID is approximately 1 in 1,000,000 (versus 1 in 50,000 for Touch ID). As an additional protection, Face ID allows only five unsuccessful match attempts before a passcode is required” (Apple Inc. Safety Safeguards). However, with all of this, expert still say that the probability of having these protections broken in is evitable and you are still at risk of having your data tampered with.

    In closing, “some courts have ruled that if law enforcement has a warrant to search your phone, they can require you to provide your fingerprints to search your phone, they can require you to provide your fingerprint to open it up” (ACLU). That gives opportunity for the courts to see the face prints, fingerprints, and basically one’s identity. Furthermore, even though Apple is pushing the feature of facial recognition and have users blindly following the company, many, like myself, will stop to question and see how far this slightly imposing feature will go. Valuable information could slip into the wrong hands, whether it be government, or hackers. All in all, the most important thing to keep in mind, is that you think twice before you use a device that requires your personal data.


  4. The fingerprint fails once for every 50,000 hits; facial recognition does it once per million. For this, Apple proudly boasts of the effectiveness of the new iPhone unlock system. This system works when the phone uses machine learning algorithms to create a mathematical model of the face and, once the drawing is manufactured, it uses a system that is sensors, consisting of a spot projector, an infrared camera and an illuminator that They are located in the upper part of the screen, to scan the user. They recognize with such precision a face that no one else, no matter how similar, can enter the phone. Not even a photo can circumvent access, as is the case with the LG G6 and the Galaxy S8. The Face ID is able to recognize a person even in the dark.
    Apple also guarantees that it will securely guard all information – the complex facial scheme turned into a key – so that the data is “extremely secure.” But, do this, from now on many devices will begin to implement, to a greater or lesser extent this technology, that is, we can open the door of the house with a rapid exploration of our face, turn on the car with a look or access airports with a simple facial scan.
    Facial recognition, in addition to identifying identities, is able to register emotions, moods and measure stimuli. In this way, it becomes a valuable commercial tool, an effective instrument to calculate what the potential client likes and dislikes, to know how to guide advertising based on the reactions.
    That said, it will surely make our lives more comfortable, but all this in exchange for a transfer as big of our privacy and image as our face is.

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