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Face ID on the iPhone X

Face ID is a Face Unlock facial recognition system designed and developed by Apple Inc. for the iPhone X, the iPhone XS and XS Max, and the iPhone XR. It is a type of biometric authentication technology intended to succeed Touch ID, a fingerprint-based system. It was announced on September 12, 2017 during the Apple Special Event.

Face ID consists of a sensor with two modules; one projects a grid of more than 30,000 infrared dots onto a user's face, and another module reads the pattern to confirm or deny access. This generates a 3D facial map stored in a local, secured area of the device's processor, inaccessible by Apple itself. The system learns from changes in a user's face over time, and can therefore successfully recognize the owner while wearing glasses, hats, scarves, makeup, many types of sunglasses or with changes in beard. By default, the system does not work with eyes closed.

Face ID has sparked a debate about security and privacy. Apple claims it is significantly more advanced than Touch ID, having far fewer false positives, though media reports have discussed the fact that Face ID and other biometric unlocking systems do not have the same level of constitutional privacy as a passcode in the United States. Face ID has shown mixed results when trying to separate identical twins, and the promise of enhanced security has been challenged by hackers and mask makers trying to infiltrate it; at least one of such attempts has been successful, though difficult to perform. Third-party app developers can also request access to "rough maps" of user facial data for their apps, causing concerns among privacy advocates despite rigid requirements by Apple of how developers handle facial data.


Apple Inc. announced Face ID during the unveiling of the iPhone X on September 12, 2017.[1]


Face ID logo, based off the Happy Mac from the old Mac startup

Face ID is intended to replace Touch ID, the fingerprint-based authentication technology used on the iPhone 8 and earlier Apple devices.[2] Face ID is based a facial recognition sensor that consists of two parts: a "Romeo" module that projects more than 30,000 infrared dots onto the user's face, and a "Juliet" module that reads the pattern.[3] The pattern is sent to a local "Secure Enclave" in the device's central processing unit (CPU) to confirm a match with the phone owner's face.[4][5] The facial pattern is not accessible by Apple.[4] The system will not work with eyes closed, in an effort to prevent unauthorized access.[4] Users can disable this function by setting, which would allow unlock even if the eyes are not open.

Apple claimed the probability of someone else unlocking a phone with Face ID is 1 in 1,000,000 as opposed to Touch ID at 1 in 50,000.[2][6] If the user's phone has been rebooted, has not been unlocked for 48 hours, 5 unsuccessful attempts have been made or the technology is manually disabled by the user squeezing the device's side buttons, Face ID gets disabled, requiring a passcode instead.[7]

The technology learns from changes in a user's appearance, and therefore works with hats, scarves, glasses and many sunglasses,[8] beard and makeup.[9]

It also works in the dark.[8] This is done by using a "Flood Illuminator", which is a dedicated infrared flash that throws out invisible infrared light onto the user's face to properly read the 30,000 facial points.[10]

Limitations and criticism[edit]

Twins and close relatives[edit]

Inconsistent results have been shown when testing Face ID on identical twins, with some tests showing the system managing to separate the two,[11] while other tests have failed.[12] The system has additionally been fooled by close relatives.[13] Apple states that the probability of a false match is different for twins and siblings, as well as children under 13 years of age, as "their distinct facial features may not have fully developed".[14]

Law enforcement access[edit]

Face ID has raised concerns regarding the possibility of law enforcement accessing an individual's phone by pointing the device at the user's face.[15] United States Senator Al Franken asked Apple to provide more information on the security and privacy of Face ID a day after the announcement,[16] with Apple responding by highlighting the recent publication of a security white paper and knowledge base detailing answers.[17][18]

The Verge noted that courts in the United States have granted different Fifth Amendment rights in the United States Constitution to biometric unlocking systems as opposed to keycodes. Keycodes are considered "testimonial" evidence based on the contents of users' thoughts, whereas fingerprints are considered physical evidence, with some suspects having been ordered to unlock their phones via fingerprint.[19]


Many people have attempted to break through Face ID with sophisticated masks, though most have failed.[20] In November 2017, Vietnamese security firm Bkav announced in a blog post that it had successfully created a $150 mask that tricked Face ID, though WIRED noted that Bkav’s technique was more of a "proof-of-concept" rather than active exploitation risk, with the technique requiring a detailed measurement or digital scan of the iPhone owner’s face, putting the real risk of danger only to targets of espionage and world leaders.[21][22]

Third-party developer access to facial maps[edit]

Reuters reported in early November 2017 that Apple would share certain facial data on users with third-party app developers for more precise selfie filters and for fictional game characters to mirror real-world user facial expressions. Although developers are required to seek customer permission, are not allowed to sell the data to others nor create profiles on users nor use the data for advertising, and are limited to a more "rough map" rather than full capabilities, they still get access to over 50 kinds of facial expressions. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Democracy and Technology raised privacy questions about Apple’s enforcement of the privacy restrictions connected to third-party access, with Apple maintaining that its App Store review processes were effective safeguards. The "rough map" of facial data third-parties can access is also not enough to unlock the device, according to Reuters. However, the overall idea of letting developers access sensitive facial information was still not satisfactorily handled, according to Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the ACLU, with Stanley telling Reuters that "the privacy issues around of the use of very sophisticated facial recognition technology for unlocking the phone have been overblown. … The real privacy issues have to do with the access by third-party developers".[23][24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Savov, Vlad (September 12, 2017). "iPhone X announced with edge-to-edge screen, Face ID, and no home button". The Verge. Vox Media. Retrieved December 13, 2018.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  2. ^ a b Tepper, Fitz (September 12, 2017). "Face ID is replacing Touch ID on the new iPhone X". TechCrunch. Oath Inc. Retrieved December 13, 2017. 
  3. ^ Kubota, Yoko (September 27, 2017). "Apple iPhone X Production Woe Sparked by Juliet and Her Romeo". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on September 28, 2017. Retrieved September 27, 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c Brandom, Russell (September 12, 2017). "The five biggest questions about Apple's new facial recognition system". The Verge. Vox Media. Archived from the original on November 15, 2017. Retrieved November 9, 2017. 
  5. ^ Ng, Alfred (September 27, 2017). "Is Face ID secure? Apple takes on lingering questions". CNET. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on October 2, 2017. Retrieved November 9, 2017. 
  6. ^ Warren, Tom (October 25, 2017). "Apple's Face ID struggles detailed in new iPhone X report". The Verge. Vox Media. Retrieved December 13, 2017. 
  7. ^ Panzarino, Matthew (September 15, 2017). "Interview: Apple's Craig Federighi answers some burning questions about Face ID". TechCrunch. Oath Inc. Retrieved December 13, 2017. 
  8. ^ a b Clover, Juli (September 13, 2017). "Apple's New Face ID Biometric System Works in the Dark and When Your Face is Obscured by Hats and Beard". MacRumors. Retrieved December 13, 2017. 
  9. ^ Clover, Juli (September 14, 2017). "Apple's Face ID Feature Works With Most Sunglasses, Can Be Quickly Disabled to Thwart Thieves". MacRumors. Retrieved December 13, 2017. 
  10. ^ Heisler, Yoni (November 3, 2017). "Infrared video shows off the iPhone X's new Face ID feature in action". BGR. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved December 19, 2017. 
  11. ^ Ocbazghi, Emmanuel (October 31, 2017). "We put the iPhone X's Face ID to the ultimate test with identical twins — and the results surprised us". Business Insider. Axel Springer SE. Retrieved December 4, 2017. 
  12. ^ Ulanoff, Lance (October 31, 2017). "The iPhone X can't tell the difference between identical twins". Mashable. Retrieved December 4, 2017. 
  13. ^ Deahl, Dani (November 14, 2017). "This 10-year-old was able to unlock his mom's iPhone using Face ID". The Verge. Vox Media. Retrieved December 13, 2017. 
  14. ^ Hall, Zac (September 27, 2017). "Apple explains how iPhone X facial recognition with Face ID works (and fails) in security paper". 9to5Mac. Retrieved December 13, 2017. 
  15. ^ Kircher, Madison Malone (September 12, 2017). "Yes, You Can Unlock the New iPhone With Your Face. Here's How It Works". Select All. New York. Archived from the original on October 13, 2017. Retrieved November 9, 2017. 
  16. ^ Romm, Tony (September 13, 2017). "Apple is facing questions from the U.S. Senate on the privacy protections in iPhone X and Face ID". Recode. Vox Media. Archived from the original on November 10, 2017. Retrieved November 9, 2017. 
  17. ^ Lomas, Natasha (October 17, 2017). "Apple responds to Senator Franken's Face ID privacy concerns". TechCrunch. Oath Inc. Archived from the original on November 9, 2017. Retrieved November 9, 2017. 
  18. ^ Shah, Saqib (October 18, 2017). "Apple responds to Sen. Al Franken's Face ID concerns in letter". Engadget. Oath Inc. Archived from the original on November 10, 2017. Retrieved November 9, 2017. 
  19. ^ Robertson, Adi (September 12, 2017). "Why Face ID won't give you the legal protection of a passcode". The Verge. Vox Media. Retrieved December 4, 2017. 
  20. ^ Greenberg, Andy (November 3, 2017). "We tried really hard to beat Face ID - and failed (so far)". Wired. Condé Nast. Retrieved December 4, 2017. 
  21. ^ Greenberg, Andy (November 12, 2017). "Hackers say they've broken Face ID a week after iPhone X release". Wired. Condé Nast. Retrieved December 4, 2017. 
  22. ^ Ong, Thuy (November 13, 2017). "This $150 mask beat Face ID on the iPhone X". The Verge. Vox Media. Retrieved December 4, 2017. 
  23. ^ Nellis, Stephen (November 2, 2017). "App developer access to iPhone X face data spooks some privacy experts". Reuters. Thomson Reuters. Retrieved December 4, 2017. 
  24. ^ Statt, Nick (November 2, 2017). "Apple will share face mapping data from the iPhone X with third-party app developers". The Verge. Vox Media. Retrieved December 4, 2017. 

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