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What Is Facial Recognition on a Phone?


January 31, 2019

Fingerprint and touchpad IDs have been around for a few years, but facial recognition software on smartphones, like Apple’s Face ID, is relatively new technology. So how does facial recognition work? Simply put, it uses a biometric software application to identify and verify people by analyzing the unique features of their face. While cell phone manufacturers mostly use this software for security purposes, such as unlocking your smartphone, Apple has started using it for digital payments on Apple Pay as well.

It may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, but facial recognition technology is becoming more and more popular. As you shop around for a new phone, consider the pros and cons of getting a smartphone with this cutting-edge technology.

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Facial recognition vs. touchpad ID

Facial recognition and fingerprint ID have their pros and cons. In theory, both are faster and more secure than simply entering a passcode.

Fingerprint recognition works by reading the differences in conductivity created by the tiny ridges in your finger, then compares it to the snapshot of your fingerprint it has memorized. It’s a widely accepted and trusted form of security, and smartphones have featured touchpad IDs for years — the iPhone 5s, introduced in 2013, was the first cell phone on a major U.S. carrier to have this technology. 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, and the chances of someone else’s fingerprint being able to unlock your phone are one in 50,000.

Facial recognition uses nothing more than your face to unlock your phone. Facial recognition on phones has many benefits:

  • It’s fast and convenient — no buttons required.
  • It analyzes multiple parts of your face, including the placement of your eyes and the width of your nose, and combines all these features into a unique code that identifies you.
  • It can work with the built-in camera on your phone.
  • The chances of a random person being able to unlock your phone are one in a million.

Is facial recognition safe?

One in a million are safe odds, but using a face password isn’t 100% safe from hackers (or identical twins). Plus, there are some privacy concerns — where is Apple storing your face data and how accessible is that data to third parties? For now, Apple keeps it private by encrypting it on your smartphone.

Apple’s Face ID is considered the most secure — it uses an infrared camera, depth sensor, and dot projector to map 30,000 points on your face. From that, the software creates an artificial 3D scan that is secure enough to unlock your phone and verify digital payments through Apple Pay. Facial recognition software used by other companies isn’t as sophisticated; it creates a 2D map, sometimes coupled with an iris scanner, meaning it can potentially be hacked with a photo of the user. It doesn’t function well in poor lighting or if the angle of the phone isn’t right.

Devices that offer facial recognition

Apple’s iPhone X series and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 and 9 are the most popular devices with facial recognition right now. As other companies follow suit, it’s estimated that over one billion smartphones will use digital 3D face scanning in the next two years. In addition to Apple and Samsung, popular devices that offer this feature include Motorola Moto G6, OnePlus 6, Oppo Find X, Huawei Honor 7X, and LG G7. These devices scan faces using a 2D scanner, iris scanner, or a combination of the two. You can also download facial recognition applications like FaceLock, which lets you access or restrict other apps using facial recognition.

As facial recognition becomes more popular, it’s important to research the pros and cons as you consider getting a phone with this feature.

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