Apple’s iPhone X Brings Face Recognition (and Fears) to the Masses


Apple will allow users to unlock the iPhone X using their face—a move that is likely to bring facial recognition to the masses, along with concerns regarding how the technology may be utilised for treacherous purposes.

The newest device from Apple is scheduled to go on sale on November 3. The new smartphone is designed to be unlocked using a facial scan with a number of privacy safeguards. It is said the data will only be saved on the phone and not in any databases.

According to Apple, unlocking the phone using a face scan may offer additional security and convenience and for users of the iPhone. The company also claims that its “neural engine” for FaceID cannot be deceived by a photo or hacker.

While other devices have offered facial recognition in the past, Apple is the first to carry the technology enabling a three-dimensional scan into a hand-held phone.

However, despite Apple’s safeguards, privacy activists worry that the widespread use of facial recognition would “normalize” the said technology and allow broader use by marketers, law enforcement, or others of a widely unregulated tool.

“Apple has done a number of things well for privacy but it’s not always going to be about the iPhone X,” said a policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union, Jay Stanley.

“There are real reasons to worry that facial recognition will work its way into our culture and become a surveillance technology that is abused.”

Last year, a study by Georgetown University researchers discovered almost half of all Americans in a law enforcement database that includes facial recognition, without their consent.

Civil liberties groups have contested over the use of the FBI of its “next generation” biometric database, which includes facial profiles, claiming that it has a high error rate and the possibility for tracking innocent people.

“We don’t want police officers having a watch list embedded in their body cameras scanning faces on the sidewalk,” stated Stanley.

Clare Garvie, the Georgetown University Law School associate who spearheaded the study on facial recognition databases in 2016, agreed that Apple is taking a responsible approach while others might not.

“My concern is that the public is going to become inured or complacent about this,” said Garvie.