Google’s Patent on Facial Passwords Published; Analysts Not Impressed

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Android users could be asked to pull a series of facial expressions in an attempt to unlock their phone or tablet in the near future. Google has filed a patent that could require users to stick their tongues out or even wrinkle their nose, among other gestures expected to serve the purpose of a password. Google says that the need for specific gestures could prevent the use of photos, which can fool the face unlock facility in Android phones today. Jelly Bean saw the introduction of a new way to unlock phones, requiring users to blink their eyes. This feature turned out to be a failure, predictably due to implementation issues.

The document that was filed a year ago, only published recently, could not only track a facial landmark to confirm the user’s identity, but also carry out a response for the action recognized by the device. Anything from an eyebrow movement, a tongue protrusion to a frown has been listed as a command which can be made to the device. The software will compare a series of images to check if a gesture has been made. The filing also proposes several ways of differentiating between photographs and real time images. There is enough proof that has been provided in the filing which suggests that the use of doctored images wouldn’t work in this case.

These efforts being undertaken by Google should be reassuring, given the faulty nature of the current face unlocking software. No soul has forgotten how researchers from British Columbia University in Canada successfully outwitted the blink feature using a photograph. This patent, however, describes a possible fool proof methodology for facial unlocking. A combination of several gestures i.e. a request for a blink, followed by a turn of the head and then a wink will enable the device to confirm the presence of a real person. Furthermore, randomisation of these requests for gestures will make it all the more difficult for someone to deceive the identification procedure.

However, Google itself has asserted that this is not 100% foolproof given how a device could be programmed to generate a video performing these gestures and thus deceive the unlocking system. To counter this problem Google proposes the use of emitting light beams from the device, which would reflect from the eye and a change in the intensity/colour level could thus be recorded. Fool proof biometrics are yet to be designed and according to experts, this technology won’t come close to achieving it either.

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