December 20, 2011 | by Andrew Kameka
Following Google’s unveiling of the Galaxy Nexus last October, Face Unlock was one of the features that intrigued me most. I wondered how accurate it would be, how secure it could prove, and if this was really something worth having.
Since the initial excitement sparked in October, it’s become clear to me that Face Unlock is just a novelty feature – not a security feature. We’ve already seen that Face Unlock can indeed be fooled by a photo of the user being held up to the screen, so it’s clearly not a strong way to secure a phone. Google even goes so far as to show this warning during the set-up process:
- Face Unlock is less secure than a pattern, PIN, or password.
- Someone who looks similar to you could unlock your phone.
So what’s the point of using it? Not only is the software not sophisticated enough to resist falling for a static image of me, but it’s not even smart enough to tell the difference between me and my cousin with whom I share a resemblance. That’s not “less” secure in my eyes; it’s not secure at all.
After using Face Unlock for a few days, it’s become clear that this is far more about “cool” than it is “secure,” so it’s important to consider that during any evaluation. If you want real security, put a PIN or pattern unlock on the phone, because those are far less likely to be tricked.
So why did Google release Face Lock – and better yet, why do I use it – if it’s not fail-proof? Because of that wow factor. It works more than it fails, and it’s a fun thing to show off. The appeal of Face Unlock is in its novelty. It’s one of those features that appears in technology not because of its sound engineering or amazing functionality, but simply because you can. It’s cool to be able to look at a phone and have it open up to you. Well, at least when it works. Face Unlock has this nasty habit of frequently telling me, “Sorry, don’t recognize you” and asking for my PIN code.
As long as I’m in excellent lighting, Face Unlock usually works pretty quickly (It has about a 60/40 success rate in other conditions). Users can even train it to better recognize them when wearing glasses or growing a beard. Just don’t expect to train it to be a great security tool. Not yet, at least.