First generation on mobile devices
The facial recognition ability of mobile devices is not as new a feature as one may think or as some companies claim in their efforts to promote it. In fact, one of the first devices enabled with this technology was Google's Galaxy Nexus phone that was introduced in October 2011. It was far from perfect or secure and could have been easily unlocked with a mere photograph of the owner's face. Due to the mass proliferation of fingerprint scanners on smartphones, tablets and laptops in 2012 and the rising popularity of the iris scanner, facial technology played a secondary role.
Revival of facial recognition
Each year manufacturers are pushing phone designs to the limits. Thinner body, bigger batteries, thinner bezels, higher display-to-body ratios. As phone displays get bigger and bezels thinner, there is gradually much less space for other items. Every manufacturer deals with this problem in their own way. Xiaomi, who came up with the first bezel-less design, moved the front facing camera to the bottom corner of their Mi Mix and replaced the classic ear speaker with a piezoelectric ceramic speaker built-in under the display. Samsung moved the fingerprint sensor from the front to the highly inconvenient back of their Galaxy S8 line. Apple removed the home button with the fingerprint scanner from the iPhone X completely. Although the under-screen fingerprint sensor already exists, it’s still not ready for prime time. This makes secure logging in on both the iPhone X and the S8 (Plus) less convenient, leading to both Apple and Samsung promoting facial recognition features as a viable alternative.
Big brother is watching us
Facial recognition is no longer limited to mobile devices like in its early days. With the help of advances in AI and machine learning this technology found applications in numerous sectors, some of them – rather unexpected. For instance, a church in the United States is using a camera system, equipped with facial recognition to monitor attendance (and perhaps send some pesky reminders to their less regular followers, ouch!).
Retailers monitor faces and movements in stores to gain insights on the items their customers are most interested in. With the help of AI, they can guess a person's gender and age and provide personalised in-store adverts on the spot. Perhaps the most common usage of facial recognition today, however, is as a surveillance system. Great Britain, with its staggering six million CCTV cameras positioned all around, unwaveringly monitors street activity 24x7. Hooked up to law enforcement databases and backed by AI and web crawling bots, the system not only recognises faces, but also pulls publicly available data from social media to boot. If this still doesn’t impress you, the next section probably will.
Who needs a passport, just bring your, err, face!
The People’s Republic of China already has 700+ million of its citizens’ faces encoded and stored in a government database, the largest of its kind worldwide. These records, subject to certain regulations (less airtight than their counterparts in the EU, we imagine), are available to the private sector and allow people to travel on public transportation without needing to buy a ticket or pay for a meal in a fast food restaurant without cash or a credit card. Eerily, all they need to do is smile or blink at the nearest camera. In the near future, China is also aiming to be able to know all its children, i.e. recognise every one of its 1.3 billion citizens with 90% accuracy in less than 3 seconds. Although it’s been dubbed ‘’the end of privacy,’’ this ambitious plan can also lead to positive developments across many applications, like security lines at airports. Thanks to this database, Chinese travellers would then be able to board a plane using just their unique facial boarding passes.
Faces as wallets
The previously mentioned possibility of paying with our faces is an unlikely scenario in the near future, due to the lack of a universal facial records database, making it difficult to develop a unified solution at this time. However, companies like PayPal have already experimented with adding facial unlocking features to their apps. As facial recognition tech is now backed by almost all the tech giants, we can expect the popularity of face unlocking and in-app face payments to only go up.
Last but not least: privacy implications
Critics of facial recognition see it as sinister and dangerous technology and pretty much as the embodiment of the dark side of the fourth industrial revolution. There is some reason in these mostly unfounded concerns, of course. In spite of the fact that tech giants are promoting this technology as highly secure, it is yet to be perfected. The internet is ripe with video examples, in which people managed to fool it using one of several techniques. Perhaps more alarmingly, not only can this technology recognise your age and gender with a high degree of certainty, but also your sexual orientation, which can lead to persecution in some countries.
Having said all this, we will leave the decision about using facial recognition to you. Whether you personally agree with it or not, it can still have time-saving and eventually security benefits for your app users, so if you decide to implement it in your enterprise app, we have a qualified team on hand to help you do it.
Copywriter: Ina Danova