U.S. Senate has 'important questions' about Apple Face ID privacy

Posted Sep 15, 2017 by James Walker
The U.S. Senate has sent Apple a list of questions about privacy concerns with Face ID on the iPhone X. Face ID unlocks the device using facial recognition but people are concerned about the privacy impact. One Senator said there are "important" issues.
iPhone X
iPhone X
Face ID's not having a great first few days. The technology appeared to fail during its first demonstration. It then prompted concerns that it might make it easier for law enforcement to unlock your phone. Now, Apple's facing an inquiry from the Senate about the possible privacy impact of Face ID.
Business Insider reports Minnesota Democrat Sen. Al Franken has sent the company a list of questions about the feature. In a Facebook post, Franken said he wants to know more about Face ID and how it works. Specific points he wants answering include whether law enforcement could access the Face ID "database" and if facial information will be offered to marketers.
Franken's request demonstrates how little trust people have in Face ID. Although Franken said he's really looking for "clarity," Apple addressed the concerns he expressed during its live event.
On-stage, the company insisted all Face ID data stays on your iPhone and is never sent over the Internet. This should make it impossible to use the data for marketing or law enforcement purposes. It's encrypted and only ever stored on the device that creates it. It's unlikely Apple's going to tell Franken anything different.
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Franken's inquiry is therefore confirmation of Face ID's biggest challenge: people simply don't trust it. Although it works differently to previous facial recognition tech, the concept has a bad reputation and people are alarmed by AI's involvement. Apple's new feature has prompted enough concern to rattle the Senate.
Franken's questions go deeper than the surface problems. The Senator also recognised that the technology and its applications may evolve over time. He challenged Apple to talk about the "eventual uses" of Face ID "that may not be contemplated by users." He also requested information on where Apple obtained the one billion facial images it said it used to train Face ID's AI.
"I asked [Apple] CEO Tim Cook a series of important questions about the iPhone X's Face ID system, including how users' 'faceprints' will be protected and safeguarded, if at any point that data will be shared or sold to marketers, and whether or not law enforcement will be able to access the Face ID database," said Franken. "I also asked what steps Apple has taken to ensure that the technology treats different groups of people equally and to protect against racial, gender or age bias."
Face ID's off to a rocky start. It doesn't yet seem to be the instant hit that Touch ID was at launch. Although customers are likely to become more comfortable with the tech once they have the device in their hand, Apple's got work to do if it wants to convince everyone that Face ID is safe to us. It seems accurate facial recognition is still a little too futuristic to enjoy instant acceptance.