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What Is Face ID? A Review of Apple’s Facial Recognition Technology

How Does Face ID Work

Face ID is the latest biometric authentication software from Apple that moves the authentication process from the finger to the face. The software relies on a scan of your face to grant you access to your phone, transactions, and sensitive apps. It’s the first facial recognition software to be built into Apple devices. Apple also intended for the software to replace the native fingerprint scanning software on their devices called Apple Touch ID.

In this article, we’ll explain how Face ID works and what makes it even better than other authentication methods.


Apple Face ID
Photo by Apple via Apple Support


What Is Face ID?

Face ID is the first facial recognition technology designed by Apple. The system relies on biometric authentication, a type of security process, for a variety of tasks. In this case, the verification makes use of unique biological traits or markers. There are many sources of biological markers for authentication. But in this case, they are taken from a mathematical rendering of your facial features.
Face ID makes use of what they call the “TrueDepth camera system.” It combines cameras, sensors, and software to produce detailed 3D models of your face, which will then be used for authentication. The software first takes an infrared scan of your facial features to develop a digital model of your face. This digital model will serve as the “master key” to verify your identity. Once you’ve configured Face ID on your device, the software will automatically ask to scan your face each time it’s required.
Face ID authentication has many practical applications on the iPhone and iPad models that have it. You can configure Face ID primarily to unlock your iPhone or iPad. It’s also meant to protect your financial information on Apple-affiliated websites like Apple Pay. You can also opt to use it as an added layer of protection for external apps.

How Does Face ID Work?

How Does Face ID Work
Photo by Apple via Apple Support


There are three major components to Face ID. These include the TrueDepth camera system, neural networks, and bionic chips. These components work together to make up the system biometric authentication. The way this works is that the TrueDepth camera system scans your face and projects over 30,000 invisible dots, which allows it to capture a highly detailed image.
It then passes on the infrared image to a neural network that converts the image into a mathematical model that the software can read and understand. This mathematical model or “master key” will serve as the basis for authentication. It will then scan your face again each time and check it against the master key each time you need to unlock your device.
The software also relies on neural networks or self-learning networks and Bionic neural engines. These technologies are not quite the same thing but are somewhat related in their purpose of training the software to process using scans that it got from you. The resulting effect is that the software will be able to recognize your face much better over time and under different conditions. To learn more about this fascinating new data processing technique, check out this article explaining how machine learning works. Also, learn the differences between deep learning vs machine learning.
The combination of machine learning and deep learning is so effective that it has already increased software speed by up to 30 percent compared to its first release. It also supports more angles now than it did during its release, and it can carry out face recognition even as the device sits atop a table.

Face ID’s Advanced Facial Recognition Capabilities

Face ID
Photo by Peter C via Pexels


One of the best characteristics of Face ID is that it can recognize you despite minor changes to your appearance. An example of a minor change is when you’re wearing cosmetic makeup or growing facial hair. Face ID is also able to recognize individuals even they are wearing things that partially block their face like hats, scarves, glasses, and contact lenses, among others. It’s also designed to work under different lighting conditions, whether indoors, outdoors, or even in complete darkness.
However, Face ID isn’t so good at recognizing you when you’ve had major changes to your appearance. An example of this would be when you shave off your beard completely or go bald. But whenever this happens, Face ID will simply ask for your passcode. Afterward, it will scan your face again to update its enrolled facial model. Once that’s done, all you have to do is to stare at the camera when asked and it will recognize your face. And you shouldn’t encounter any problems for as long as the facial data is updated.
Another important aspect that users need to know is the ability to tell when the Face ID is actively scanning your face or not. You’ll know that it’s actively scanning your face whenever you see that Fae ID logo at the bottom of your screen. If it’s not there then you can rest assured that the Face ID is not tracking your face without you knowing. If you need it to show up and it doesn’t, you probably need to refresh the app you’re trying to enter or go back to trigger the authentication process.

What Are Its Use Cases?

Face ID Use Cases
Photo by Apple via Apple Support


Face ID has infinite potential in terms of use case. But Apple wanted to prioritize apps and functions that are most vulnerable to security breaches. For example, most hackers would go for your phone password since it grants them access to your personal files. This in turn can also contain your other passwords to other software. Another point of vulnerability has to do with your online financial accounts. Most cybercriminals are financially motivated. This means they are likely to go for your financial information. In fact, identity theft and fraud in the financial industry is a steadily worsening problem. Then, of course, you also have plenty of apps that contain your personal information. You want to keep all of these data safe from the hands of cybercriminals, and Face ID can help.
The primary and original use case for Face ID is for unlocking your Apple devices. You can also configure Face ID to authorize financial transactions through Apple-affiliated apps. You can also configure Face ID to auto-fill your passwords in multiple applications in Safari. This option helps you to unlock various software by using your face. So, you don’t have to remember a long list of passwords.
Another use is signing in to third-party applications. Examples of third-party applications include money management apps, investment apps, and password managers. These tend to be the target of phishing campaigns due to them containing your personal information.


How to Enroll Your Face ID

Face ID Enrollment
Photo by Daria Shevtsova via Pexels


If you purchased a new iPhone or iPad and didn’t know it had Face ID software, the Quick Start process will let you know about it. You can also enable Face ID through the Settings app later on.

To set your Face ID manually, the enrollment option is located under Face ID & Passcode in Settings. Follow the prompts of the on-screen camera for the registration. Make sure to hold your device at arm’s length or anywhere between 10 and 20 inches away from you. Take note that the TrueDepth camera is capable of taking your photo while the device is in a sitting position. But in the case of enrollment, it would be much safer to stick to the selfie pose.

Make sure that you follow the onscreen instructions with regard to the positioning of your head to make sure the software captures each angle. There are two scans in total for the enrollment process, after which the software will process your scans. Once the enrollment process is complete, you should be able to unlock your device by simply staring at it when the Face ID is active.

Note that before you even set your Face ID, you first need to set a passcode as an alternative security method. Remember that you have five tries for the face scan each time you need to open your phone or initiate a transaction, but after that, you’ll need to provide a password. When it hasn’t been unlocked in 48 hours, it will ask you to reset your code.


What Are the Security Capabilities of Face ID?

Mobile Security
Photo by Pixabay via Pexels


Security is one of the main reasons why Apple came up with Face ID. It’s also one of the key things people want to know about the software. The question really is, how well does the software protect your iPhone and personal data? Luckily, Apple has put into place a variety of security measures to reduce security risks.

Apple makes sure that Face ID encrypts all data. And the keys for encryption are stored safely in another secure storage called the Secure Enclave. Face ID will also automatically update this information whenever it detects slight changes to your appearance. Then a machine learning algorithm takes note of the different scans so that the software can recognize you better over time. Apple also doesn’t keep copies of your facial data including the mathematical models it creates from the data. It stores everything, including the master key into an encrypted location in your device.

On the question of security for Face ID as a biometric system, the use of biometric data alone makes it quite a strong security measure. Apple noted that the probability that a person could get into your device using Face ID protection is only 1 in 1,000,000 with a single enrolled appearance. The only exception to this biometric fingerprinting would be twins with similar facial features and children under the age of 14 who have underdeveloped facial features.

Face ID also only allows five unsuccessful face match attempts before asking for a passcode. Face ID also won’t unlock unless you stare directly into the screen of the phone. In case someone tries to steal your iPhone, you can disable the Face ID feature by pressing on both sides of the phone.

What Are the Safety Features of Face ID?

Safety Features Face ID
Photo by Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash


Apple always makes sure that all of its products meet international standards for safety. That covers pretty much all devices including every model of the Mac, iPad, and iPhone. Even the TrueDepth camera system goes through the same rigid tests and has passed international standards. As such, Apple assures consumers that it is safe to use under normal usage conditions. Due to its low output, the infrared rays emitted from the system will not cause any harm to the eyes or skin. Apple also cautioned users to be careful with disassembly, as this can potentially damage the infrared sensors. As such, they encourage users to have their devices repaired strictly by Apple or an authorized service provider.

Besides featuring multi-factor authentication, Apple also included some anti-tampering safeguards into Face ID. That means that if a consumer or an unauthorized service provider tries to tamper with the system, it will shut down automatically for safety reasons. The TrueDepth camera might also emit a light whenever that part of the device is being viewed through the lens of another camera. Their explanation is that some cameras can detect infrared light. Nevertheless, Apple assures consumers that the light that is being emitted will in no way cause harm to the human body.

The TrueDepth camera also emits light under very low light conditions. That is, you might notice a light being emitted when you’re inside an unlit room or in the natural darkness of nighttime.


The Fun Factor of Face ID

Apple Mobile Phone
Photo by Rob Eradus via Pexels


Another unique thing about Face ID that users should know about is that it also works with emojis. Apple developed a type of emoji called Animoji way back in 2017. Animojis are customizable animated symbols that can reflect your facial expressions in real-time. They are similar to emojis found on text messaging and social media apps that convey particular emotions. However, the main difference between emojis and Animojis is that emojis are static images like stickers. Meanwhile, Animojis mimic your facial expressions in real-time.

The integration between Face ID and Animoji allows users to create 3D emoji characters that mirror their own facial expressions. Animoji and your TrueDepth work together to capture and analyze more than 50 different muscle movements in your face. After that, the software tries to capture your facial expression in real time in order to reproduce it using Animojis. You can quickly share the Animojis that you make with other Apple users through the Messages app and social media. Apple has also expanded the selection of Animojis so that you can choose from a wide selection of smileys, animals, and even inanimate objects like food and everyday items.


Final Thoughts

Apple Face ID
Photo by Matthew Schwartz via Unsplash


Facial recognition technology has plenty of potential as a stronger and fool-proof alternative to modern authentication methods. But of course, like most things in the tech world, facial recognition technology also has its own limitations. Then here comes Apple with its own facial recognition technology. This amazing new technology encourages us to believe once again in the potential of facial recognition. Granted, there may be aspects that can be improved about Face ID. But even in its current state, we cannot deny that the technology is already quite formidable and extremely practical.  We also deeply appreciate the use of machine learning and deep learning, which are still quite beyond our modern understanding. In a world of escalating risks of data privacy violations, Apple’s Face ID is a worthy addition to the arsenal of security measures.


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