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  • Worrying About Features That Don’t Exist

    August 29th, 2017

    Here we go again. Yet another story about an alleged iPhone 8 feature that is just bound to be dangerous. The disconnect is so obvious that you wonder how some so-called responsible publications manage to publish such wacky stories and imagine they make sense.

    So let’s put this in perspective. The alleged iPhone 8 is reputed to have facial recognition, specifically identified as Pearl ID. This is based on that infamous leaked HomePod firmware. If true, it doesn’t really say much or anything about the technology or its possible advantages over the competition. What we do know is that Samsung doesn’t have a reliable record with its biometrics. So the Galaxy S8’s facial recognition is readily defeated with a photograph.

    In other words, it’s useless.

    That takes us to an article from Mashable on the subject. But notice that such an article wasn’t published when the Samsung smartphones came out. Instead, they waited until mere weeks before Apple’s new iPhone is expected to be announced.

    So they found “half a dozen experts” who reportedly claim that facial recognition is “a lose-lose situation” that will create security and privacy issues.

    Take a deep breath, and consider once again that there is no iPhone 8, nor has Apple announced such a product or its possible feature set. The rumors point to facial recognition presumably because they weren’t able to make a front-mounted Touch ID work with an OLED display. Samsung had to put theirs in the rear, which makes for an awkward reach, so, therefore, Apple must have the same problem.

    Of particular concern is the report that the iPhone’s facial recognition scheme will be capable of scanning faces while the unit is lying face up on a table.

    Does it? I have no idea, since no such product exists.

    The argument is that “always on” must be gathering data and therefore might get the wrong kind of data, about people other than the ones for whom the device is configured. Somehow this means that Internet criminals might be able to break in. But does that even make sense? After all, if the alleged iPhone 8 can only be unlocked by those who set up configuration profiles, in the spirit of Touch ID, how would that create a potential security problem? How would that hurt your privacy?

    The article goes on to suggest ways Apple can alleviate potential security issues. Again, nobody outside of Apple or some of its suppliers knows how this feature is being implemented, and the safeguards that are being used to provide a safe user experience. That it’s always on should not mean that a hacker will have his or her way. That would still require finding a way to break in and make it recognize someone else’s face.

    What I do expect is that, if there is a facial recognition feature on a forthcoming iPhone, Apple would make damn sure it isn’t susceptible to breaking via a photograph. Your privacy should not be a factor unless Apple is gathering your information, especially in a way that allows you to be identified. But that’s precisely what Touch ID does not do, and I fully expect that a 3D facial recognition feature would be similarly secure.

    After all, why bother to have such a feature, one required for secure mobile transactions and logins, without the proper degree of protections? Does that make any sense to you?

    Remember, this is Apple, not Samsung. Samsung is a company that doesn’t seem to be concerned about biometrics that aren’t secure. And I haven’t considered the recent legal troubles confronted by the company’s CEO. Well, except this: If Tim Cook had been caught engaging in financial fraud, how long would he last as head of the company? A day, an hour, five minutes? Not very long.

    And Apple would be in the headlines for months trying to distance itself from the transgressions of a key executive. Sales would be harmed, the stock price would tank. You get the picture. It wouldn’t be very pretty.

    But it goes to show that Samsung can get away with flawed products and crooked executives without apparently suffering very much from its shame.

    In any case, I suppose the Mashable piece, to which I haven’t provided a link, will offer the proper level of fear mongering for those who feel that Apple must be in serious trouble and in danger of delivering a flagship 10th anniversary iPhone that contains serious product flaws.

    It also goes to show that Mashable hasn’t a clue what’s really going on, or what precautions Apple has taken. But there are always so-called industry experts who are only too happy to talk about such matters as theories, rather than realities, and focus on the bad things that could happen.

    Now if and when Apple introduces an iPhone with facial recognition, it will be fair for critics to evaluate the feature and make sure it’s secure and provides the level of user privacy that is part and parcel of the Apple experience. If there are problems, they should be reported.

    But just to speculate on something that doesn’t exist, with no awareness of what that something will actually do, doesn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy about those alleged experts. And, no, I won’t name them. They don’t deserve the publicity.



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