When it comes to facial recognition technology, Apple’s Face ID is one of the first things that come to mind. These technological advancements provide us with the ultimate convenience, but at what cost? What are the ethical and legal frameworks consequences of this new technology?
Once seen only in speculative science fiction movies, AI and face recognition technology is becoming increasingly commonplace in our society today. As we continue to strive for convenience, technology is becoming more streamlined with our day to day lives. We’ve gone from the search engine, to the voice assistant; from gaming on the computer or console, to gaming in an augmented or virtual reality; and from passwords that require letters, numbers, and symbols, to facial recognition security. These technological advancements provide us with the ultimate convenience, but at what cost? What are the ethical and legal frameworks consequences of this new technology?
When it comes to facial recognition technology, Apple’s Face ID is one of the first things that come to mind. When Apple released its Face ID technology in September 2017 with the new iPhone X, many were excited; others, not so much. The facial recognition software introduced an exciting new feature to the iPhone X but also new concerns for privacy – people were concerned about where their facial data was being stored and what it could be potentially used for. Before we get into the specifics of ethical and legal considerations with facial data, let’s step back a bit and see how facial recognition software works.
What is Facial Recognition and How Does it Work?
Facial recognition is a method of verifying one’s identity via the analysis of their face. The biometric software used for facial analysis contains a bunch of sensors and infrared nodes to analyse the features of a person’s face and collect biometric data – meaning physical or behavioural human characteristics that can be stored digitally. The entire process of facial recognition typically involves capturing an image (a face) and determining the eye location. The image is then converted to greyscale, cropped, and analysed against a database (saved facial data) to compare results. Finally, the image is then matched by an algorithm. Overall, this process includes two main steps for AI technology: identification (who are you?) and authentication (are you really who you say you are?).
How Does Apple Face ID Work?
Apple Face ID works by accessing your front-facing camera (on the iPhone X or newer model) to capture your face and compare it to stored facial data on its biometric chip. Apple calls this facial recognition software its TrueDepth camera system — it consists of ambient light and proximity sensors, an infrared and a 7MP cameras, a flood illuminator and a dot projector. When setting up Face ID, TrueDepth learns your facial features by creating a 3D image using over 30,000 dots positions cast on your face. For reference, there are 80 generally recognised nodal points on a face – so Apple’s technology is pretty advanced. Apple’s system is so sophisticated that it can even identify you after you’ve slightly altered your appearance. You can change your makeup, hairstyle, grow a beard, wear a hat, and even wear glasses (or sunglasses!) and your iPhone will still recognise you.
Dangers and Flaws?
There have been some studies into the security of facial recognition technology that have uncovered flaws and dangers of the technology. Most notably, some researchers from the University of Toronto discovered that they could use adversarial learning to beat a neural net using another neural net. This introduces the potential for phones to be hacked, stolen and sold. Specifically, the Toronto researchers learnt that adjusting a small amount of pixels at the mouth or eye made the image unrecognisable to the AI. Many products from companies such as Samsung, Lonovo, Blackberry, Nokia, LG were all able to be compromised and unlocked with a simple photo of the devices’ owner. These breaches are worrying as the identification and recognition of peoples’ faces can create vulnerability for peoples’ identity, especially considering the data can be breached simply by using pictures of peoples faces to unlock the device. Thankfully, Apple’s Face ID is less easily infiltrated; it creates a 3D print of your face to unlock your phone, so a 2D photograph will never work.
Another controversial flaw in facial recognition software is unintentional racial profiling. This is due to how the neural network learnt to read faces, practicing on predominantly white men. In one case in Shanghai, one woman’s phone was able to be unlocked with her coworkers face, an event that Apple claimed had a one in a million chance of happening (chances of a false match increase with a twin or between users under 12 where facial features haven’t completely developed). The story highlighted potential racial discrimination within the technology, and certainly highlighted a lack of diversity within the company. In light of this and our current climate, it’ll be good to see how Apple handles such issues in the future and develops its technology.
While there are some concerns that come with facial recognition software, there’s also a lot of positives that come with the technology, which is why it’s being integrated into many public institutions. Facial recognition is particularly viable for spaces such as airports and banks as a security precaution. In the US, Amazon claims the police department that began using their Recognition software was able to “reduce the identification time of reported suspects from two to three days down to minutes and had apprehended their first suspect within a week by using their new system,” according to Security Today. Furthermore, this system can quickly identify people on no-fly lists, or criminals entering places they shouldn’t, prompting fast and appropriate action.
As another bonus, facial recognition in everyday life (like on our phones or laptops) provides insane convenience. In the fast paced times we live in, easy and speedy access to technology is important for busy people. For Face ID, the technology also is an improvement on previous technology, such as Touch ID. According to Xfinity, “Touch ID can be extremely effective, but it has its flaws. Dirt, grease, gloves, or damage to the user’s finger can all affect how well it works.” Overall, facial recognition software is easy to deploy and implement – there is no interaction (physically) from the user to instigate the technology – and comes with a vast sea of areas for potential application. In future, facial recognition software could be used to find missing children and disoriented adults, identify and find exploited children, identify and track criminals, and support and accelerate investigations, according to Thales Group.
What Does this Mean for Privacy?
In terms of the safest software with the most protection for your privacy, Apple has you covered. The biometric data recorded by Apple’s Face ID system is never shared with Apple. Rather, it is stored inside the secured A11 bionic chip within each device. Not only does Apple not receive a map of your face, but no other device receives this either, making using Face ID incredibly safe. It’s clear that Apply had everyone’s privacy front of mind in the development of Face ID.
Other phones, however, may not have the same level of security and privacy. The biometric software of other brands may only project on a 2D map of the face (possibly only coupled with an iris scanner). This encourages the use of pictures to unlock the device if there is correct lighting and angles. Always do your research before choosing which brand.
As this technology is quite new, there is still a lack of federal regulation around it. However, the UK and Europe and some states in the US have a biometric data protection framework that is detailed and aims to provide protection and rights to consumers.
What About Australia?
In Australia, your biometric data is covered under the Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act). According to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), “your biometric information is sensitive information. This means that if the Privacy Act covers the organisation or agency collecting it then they must first ask for your consent, with some exceptions, and also make sure it has a high level of privacy protection. The Privacy Act covers Australian Government agencies and any organisation with an annual turnover of more than $3 million, and some other organisations.”
Biometric data includes data pertaining to your:
Facing the Future
With how quickly technology is advancing, we don’t know what’s around the corner. However, we do know that facial recognition is here to stay. When it comes to this tech, it’s clear that the brand you choose matters and Apple’s Face ID is at the top of the game. Get your hands on the iPhone X or iPhone X plus at The Computer Market – while in stock. Looking for more Apple products? Get your Mac-on and browse through The Computer Market’s catalogue of refurbished Apple products. If you’re new to the world of refurbished tech, check out our constantly updated blog to learn more about the benefits of buying refurbished. To hear more about our services, contact The Computer Market today!