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Apple to Use Selfies to Unlock Phones?

The patent outlines an alternative to passwords.


Apple has just received a patent for using facial recognition to unlock a mobile device.

The company describes using a mobile phone’s camera to capture an image of a user’s face, analyze it and unlock the device if the photo matches the owner’s face. The technology, Apple writes in its patent application, would eliminate some of the time-consuming steps for unlocking a device. As it stands now, users need to drag a slide bar and enter a password — steps that some might find inconvenient.

With facial recognition, the device would automatically unlock when a phone is moved into “a use position” and the camera image matches the initial one taken of the owner. No password required. Apple notes that the technology could be used to identify other authorized users of the device — say, friends or family members.

Apple declined comment.

 Apple patent for facial recognition technology to unlock a phone
Apple patent for facial recognition technology to unlock a phone

Facial recognition is gaining broader application.

Android phones also have an automatic unlocking feature called Smart Lock, which allows the device to open when it recognizes the user’s face — though Google warns this is less secure than, say, a password, since someone who looks like you also could unlock the phone.

Facebook already uses facial recognition to identify people in photos uploaded to the social networking site, using your profile photos for comparison. That’s how it suggests “tags.”

And earlier this month, Alibaba founder Jack Ma demonstrated a payment system on a smartphone using facial recognition.

The technology is not without its glitches.

Hewlett-Packard introduced a computer with a built-in webcam whose face-tracking software had trouble seeing black people. The company acknowledged its cameras may have issues with contrast recognition in certain lighting situations, according to CNN.

“As soon as my blackness enters the frame, it stopped,” said Desi Cryer, who created a video with colleague Wanda Zamen to demonstrate the problem.

Here’s the YouTube video:

Update: This post now includes details of Android’s automatic unlocking features.

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