One of the big revelations though a widely anticipated one from yesterday's Apple launch event was the Home-button-free iPhone X and its facial-recognition technology. The internet has been abuzz ever since with concerns about how well this software is really going to work, whether it's really as secure (or moreso) than Touch ID or a password for unlocking one's phone, and predictions about how it might be tricked or otherwise abused. Wired published a deep dive into the much documented problems with facial recognition technologies to date. And New York Magazine leapt to point out that even during Tuesday's keynote, as Apple's Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi was trying to demonstrate how Face ID worked, he had to switch to a backup phone after the first one he tried prompted him to input a passcode (it seems, though, this was because the phone had recently been rebooted, not because Face ID had failed).
We also have our own exiled, privacy-obsessed Cassandra on Twitter, Edward Snowden, worried that normalizing the use of such technology only means we're going to see more and more of it in our everyday lives i.e. this is just another step toward a world in which little cameras are watching us, and recognizing us, everywhere we go.
#FaceID— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) September 12, 2017
Good: Design looks surprisingly robust, already has a panic disable.
Bad: Normalizes facial scanning, a tech certain to be abused.
CNet also points to an ACLU Q&A on the topic of facial recognition systems in which they noted, "Once installed, this kind of a surveillance system rarely remains confined to its original purpose. New ways of using it suggest themselves, the authorities or operators find them to be an irresistible expansion of their power, and citizens' privacy suffers another blow."
But is Face ID really something we need wring our hands over before the phone has even been released?
The technology works via an infrared system that Apple is calling TrueDepth, which projects a grid of 30,000 invisible light dots onto the user's face, and then further refines the scan as the user tilts and turns their head. A leak of iOS 11 last week provided us with the video below that shows exactly how Face ID gets set up.
Both Snowden and Wired point to the extra layer of security that iOS 11 has already built in, a "panic" feature, called SOS Mode, in which the user can tap the power button (or in the case of the iPhone 6, 7, or 8, the Home button) five times to disable Face ID and thereby lock someone out if you were being coerced into unlocking your own phone.
And when it comes to tricking Apple's 3D-enabled Face ID, the logistical and financial threshold for doing so is quite high indeed if it requires constructing a replica of your head with a 3D printer Apple exec Phil Schiller said in the keynote that they'd taken the software to Hollywood mask-making artists to see if they could trick it, and they couldn't, but identical twins might want to be careful about letting their phones out of their sight.
Supposedly, the odds of tricking the Face ID software are one in a million in terms of someone's face coincidentally being a lot like yours versus one in 50,000 when it comes to tricking Apple's Touch ID though New York Mag points out that neither is as secure as a regular old password.
"Apple always wants its user experience to be delightful," says security researcher Marc Rogers, speaking to Wired. "In the security world that means you’re going to have to accept certain limitations."
So, in summation, it likely will take an identical twin, or someone with the capability of scanning your head, 3D-printing a replica, and giving it lifelike eyes to hack into your iPhone X. I think I'm good with that. Especially if it means I get to use animoji.
Below, 9 to 5 Mac gets a hands-on walk-through with the iPhone X at the Steve Jobs Theater.