New iPhone debuts facial-recognition technology, raising privacy concerns

The new Apple iPhone X will use facial-recognition technology to automatically unlock when it sees its user's face. This is the first time that a mobile phone features facial-recognition technology, and some privacy advocates worry that the technology is about to spread too fast, too quickly in society and could pose unforeseen risks to individual privacy and safety.
By Lila Alexander | Oct 31, 2017
Apple's new iPhone X will be the first iPhone that users will be able to unlock with their faces. Apple's new FaceID software will make a three-dimensional scan of its user's face and store it in its memory bank so that it instantly recognizes the user with no log-in password or PIN needed. This would make it the first hand-held phone to feature facial-recognition technology.

Apple said that numerous privacy safeguards will be in place. The facial-scan data will be stored on the phone only and not in any external database, for example.

Not everyone finds these added safety steps reassuring. Some privacy advocates worry that putting facial-recognition technology into mobile phones creates new risks of law enforcement, marketers, and others exploiting it.

"There are real reasons to worry that facial recognition will work its way into our culture and become a surveillance technology that is abused," said Jay Stanley, a policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Facial-recognition technology is already in widespread use among police and national-security professionals, according to Claire Garvie, a Georgetown University Law School associate. She led a 2016 study that found that law-enforcement databases have the stored facial images of nearly half of all Americans, almost all without the individuals' consent.

Garvie also found that the databases have erroneously linked some facial images to innocent individuals. If the technology spreads, the risk arises of police wrongly identifying innocent people as criminals, she warned. She added that police could also use it to more easily track individuals who participate in political demonstrations.

Garvie said that Apple is not using facial-recognition in a harmful way but that others might. She expressed concern that the spread of facial-recognition technology throughout society could make consumers more easily trackable by law enforcement, marketers, or even stalkers.

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