By: Amina Jamil
Managing Editor
We all have heard of the new iPhone X, and its’ most prominent feature: facial recognition. Users are able to use facial recognition to unlock their phones and even to use Apple pay. But, how exactly does facial recognition work? What even is facial recognition? It is a relatively new technology, so there are still some unknown aspects to it, but the overall software is simple.

Facial recognition is a technology that works by identifying a person’s face in order to perform actions such as unlocking a phone. It works by calculating the nodal points of a person’s face. Basically, it calculates the distances between prominent features (eyes, nose, etc.) and uses those points as coordinates in order to create a face map. A person typically has 80 nodal points (New Economy). Once the coordinates are gathered, the operating system creates a faceprint based on the information. The software pays special attention to to specific measurements such as the distance between eyes and the width of cheekbones. The information then gets stored in a database so that it can be used to verify the user.

Photo Credit: Evolving Science

Even though this process seems foolproof, it is still prone to many mistakes and miscalculations. One major problem with the face mapping technique is that it runs into problems whenever a person’s face changes. It get thrown off by different angles, lighting, and facial expressions. However, Apple’s facial recognition software is more advanced because it uses 3D sensors, which have been developed in order to gauge depth in addition to nodal points (New Economy). By perceiving depth, it allows the software to more accurately map the face because it takes jaw shape, eye socket depth, and nose contour into consideration. However, the software is still not advanced enough to tell identical twins apart. It is also bypassable with a face mask and some simple tools.

Apple was recently under fire because a Chinese woman had her phone unlocked by her coworker multiple times, on multiple devices. In another instance, one Vietnamese cybersecurity firm has conducted an experiment in which a person used a 3D mask and a few other materials and was able to unlock someone else’s phone with facial recognition (Jurist). These examples highlight the risk of people getting hacked or getting their information stolen, but the probability of a random person unlocking someone else’s phone is one in a million. Despite the risks involved with facial recognition, it has many positives as well.

Facial recognition makes many task more convenient. For example, in China, people are already using facial recognition to pay for coffee in shops and to take money out of an ATM (The Week). It can make transactions faster and more accurate than fingerprints. Another use of facial recognition is with criminal investigations. Eventually, criminals might be caught through CCTV facial recognition, or even simply through phone usage. Overall, facial recognition has the potential to change how society operates on a technological level.