Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota sent a letter to Apple Wednesday evening voicing his concerns of the new iPhone X’s “Face ID” technology.
Franken not only described his reservations, but also sought further particulars on how the facial recognition tool works and its implications.
“While details on the device and its reliance on facial recognition technology are still emerging, I am encouraged by the steps that Apple states it has taken to implement the system responsibly,” he wrote. “However, substantial questions remain about how Face ID will impact iPhone users’ privacy and security, and whether the technology will perform equally well on different groups of people.”
Face ID is a biometric security capability that, among other functions, allows users to lock and unlock their devices with their unique facial characteristics and measurements. It uses multiple highly-advanced cameras to essentially create a “mathematical model of your face” in real-time so it can automatically detect if the holder of the phone is the true owner. (RELATED: The iPhone 8 And iPhone X Have Arrived. Here Are Some New Features)
Unlike a password, an individual’s faceprint is permanent, public, and uniquely identifies its owner. As a result, should a bad actor gain access to the faceprint data that Face ID requires, the ramifications could last forever, particularly if Apple’s biometric technology comes to be used in other devices and settings. Furthermore, Apple itself could use the data to benefit other sectors of its business, sell it to third parties for surveillance purposes, or receive law enforcement requests to access it facial recognition system – eventual uses that may not be contemplated by Apple customers. For these reasons, it is incumbent on Apple to provide as must transparency on this complex new technology as possible.
The successful comedy writer turned public official laid out a number of questions for the tech conglomerate to address, including data storage and sharing protocol, like law enforcement collaboration, as well as potential safeguards.
Franken’s somewhat ambiguously worded reference to the technology’s equal treatment “on different groups of people” is a reference to certain concerns that such intelligence systems can sometimes be so inherently flawed that they’re racist.
“What steps did Apple take to ensure its system was trained on a diverse set of faces, in terms of race, gender, and age?” he inquired. “How is Apple protecting against racial, gender, or age bias in Face ID?” (RELATED: Here Are All The Important Things You Could Buy Instead Of The iPhone X)
An automatic, sensor-embedded soap dispenser, for example, seemed to only discharge the cleansing liquid when a white person reached his hands out. The device, which appeared functional, was not able to identify darker skin.
Franken has “pushed several companies on the threat of new technologies potentially outpacing our laws,” as the senator’s press release says. He also directly requested further information from Facebook in 2013 on its facial recognition program and database.
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