This week, Apple announced the latest upgrades and innovations for its product line. The big reveal was iPhone X (iPhone 10). Beyond its headline-grabbing $1,000 price tag, the 10 is going to have highly advanced facial recognition capabilities
. Apple is betting that the new phone will be as disruptive as the original iPhone was a decade ago. Facial recognition just might recapture the lightning in that bottle.
The new Apple facial recognition software will employ a sophisticated infrared camera to capture a 3-D image of the user’s face. Apple says the image will be so good that it can serve as identification much the way fingerprints now unlock iPhones and authorize payments on the App Store or through Apple Pay. Not coincidentally, there will be no home button on the iPhone but you will need to swipe your finger on the screen to exit standby mode. Apple, which has been zealous in its protection of users’ privacy, says that facial images will not be stored on the cloud, but terms and conditions allow Apple to change this at any time. Observers are skeptical of Apple’s claims about facial recognition, especially that it can’t be fooled, but they do admit that the technology presented is impressive. Up to now, facial recognition has had particular difficulty recognizing black people
, though Apple’s system does the best job so far. There is also doubt in the market about whether Apple can deliver on the pre-orders of both the iPhone 8/8S and iPhone X
. Last year’s roll out of the iPhone 7/7S and the earlier iPhone 6/6S were not without hiccups.
Facial recognition is already making strides in shopping and security, especially in China, which maintains an enormous database of its citizens’ “faceprints” or “FaceIDs” and has begun to license the database to developers. One licensee, Megvii, provides face-scanning technology to he company that handles payment processing for Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s online platforms. Facial recognition has already begun to alter social behavior there
in other ways. No such database exists in the U.S. and few states have privacy laws on the books protecting people’s faceprint privacy. Facebook, which comes closest to having a such a database of its 2 billion users worldwide, has launched a law suit against the State of Illinois
, which along with Texas, has facial recognition regulations on the books. Facebook and others will likely face greater hurdles overseas where privacy laws are stricter. Europe in particular has much tougher privacy regulations.
There is no doubt that facial recognition as it stands now presents security and privacy issues. Jake Laperruque, writing in Wired Magazine
, warns of Apple FaceID’s potential as a tool for mass spying
. On the other hand, the Social Security number, which has served as Americans’ unique identifier is very old technology that is easy to steal and hard to replace once compromised. The recent data breach at Equifax
put 143 million American’s information into the hands of as yet unidentified hackers. The thieves got away with the names, addresses, dates of birth, SSNs and driver’s license numbers of nearly half the population of the U.S. Facial recognition might make this kind of breach much more difficult or even impossible in the future.
So where does that leave the background screening industry? With the right safeguards in place, facial recognition will be a key if not the key identifying screening marker. Facial identification could also be combined with other biometric markers such as fingerprints and retinal scans to make sure a person is who they say they are. As China is demonstrating, the technology already exists to tie individuals to all their personal identification and financial records. Governments already have this technology. Software and apps, if not already in development, will be created to gather facial IDs from job applicants on the spot or at nearby centers. As reported here earlier, one Indian company has already launched an app that collects self-disclosed information from job seekers. Facial recognition may not stop thieves from stealing personal information, but it would make it much harder to use. It would also make the job of the screener much easier.