Now Unlock your Devices with a Selfie!

Abin Sam, an intern at Khurana and Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorneys, looks into a patent relating to unlocking of devices with a selfie.

Passcodes and the famous Fingerprint-Scans may soon be a thing of the past. Apple, on March 2015, has been granted a Patent that lets users unlock and secure their phones with a selfie!

US Patent No. 8,994,499, titled “Locking and Unlocking a Mobile Device using Facial Recognition,” would let users unlock their devices by taking a photo of their face to prove who they are. It’s the biometric alternative to the Touch ID, Apple’s fingerprint scanner. 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 used to 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 would then be required.

But, facial recognition security isn’t new. 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 more recently, Jack Ma, founder of the online retailer ‘Alibaba’, debuted Selfie-Powered Mobile Payments. The “Smile to Pay” will let users pay for goods using their device using facial recognition to authenticate their identity and notably too, this technology is not without its glitches. Hewlett-Packard had also 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.

But where Apple gives all these already existing technologies a beat is an interesting angle, according to which, it continues to secure your device even after it has been unlocked! For better understanding of this twist, it can be summarized simply into the fact that with devices with the said technology enabled, it would continue to periodically take photos of the user, and if the user no longer appears in the images, the device will automatically lock, resulting in blocking the unauthorised intruders from accessing the device’s contents. This twist of the technology by Apple though has not been explained in detail, especially in cases where the original user has given his device to a friend or family member for use. And even though it has been explained on paper or not, the point is that the technology still requires to be used in devices by people around the world for the ultimate recognition of the technology that the company actually aspires for.

But having said that, the fans of Apple devices, who will be happy to read about this technology and would be eagerly waiting for Apple to get this technology up and running in their devices soon, should be made to remember a fact that there is no guarantee that Apple will implement the technology, since the company obtains numerous patents that it never uses! This though can be explained to be of a precautionary, or intended to trip up or block competitors kind of a move from the company. But as the industry increasingly looks to kill traditional passwords, Selfie-Secured Devices surely do sound surprisingly believable.

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