Facial recognition is not a new kid on the block when it comes to consumer usage, popular apps such as Facebook are already using the technology to recognize and allow users to tag faces in uploaded photos. The company is also currently testing a facial recognition system that can be used to confirm identity if a user is locked out of his or her account.

Mobile device makers are also beginning to use facial recognition technology to replace the password/pin login method. But can this technology really protect data … and privacy?

What is facial recognition and how does it work?

Facial recognition is powered by a biometric software application which ”recognizes” a person by scanning, comparing and analyzing patterns based on a person's facial contours. The technology is primarily used for law enforcement and security purposes, though there is increasing interest in other areas of use.

For example, facial recognition technology is improving healthcare through the work of a team at the National Human Genome Research Institute that discovered a way to screen for a rare medical condition, DiGeorge syndrome, found in non-Caucasian populations. DiGeorge is a syndrome where a missing part of chromosome 22 causes a variety of health issues including cleft palate, heart defects and learning problems. Because DiGeorge syndrome causes a broad variety of health problems, it can be hard for medical professionals to diagnose the syndrome as the underlying cause of the observed symptoms. As a result, healthcare providers often can't pinpoint the cause. But DiGeorge syndrome can be identified through facial recognition technology, which enables a diagnosis in more than 96 percent of the cases in a recent study.

In another example, an Asian e-commerce giant wants to eliminate the hassle of providing personal information to make it easier to securely purchase items online. Hence the organization and its affiliate payment service aim to use facial recognition software as part of their online payments application. With this new use of an increasingly powerful technology, buyers can simply scan their face with their smartphone camera to simplify placing orders.

Advantages of facial recognition

Facial recognition doesn’t require contact; face images can be captured from a distance and analyzed without any interaction with the user/person. The technology can serve as an efficient security measure for locating individuals, time tracking and attendance. In addition to that, it is also a cost-effective technology as there is less processing involved, compared with other biometric techniques.

Concerns and ways to keep your devices safe

While the technology is becoming popular, it is by no means a foolproof way to keep your privacy and data safe. In 2009, for instance, security researchers successfully tricked face-based login systems for a variety of laptops with a printed photo of the laptop's owner held in front of its camera. While the technology is more sophisticated today, the tools to “trick” the technology are also more sophisiticated.

And, in theory, since a device’s facial recognition system matches a locally-stored image of a face, that image could be exposed and then compromised by a security vulnerability. It’s obviously easier to change a password that has been stolen in a cyberattack than it is to change your face.

All things considered, until facial recognition technology is proven to be implemented with robust security, you should not let your guard down. Apply one of these approaches to guard your devices:

  • Use layers of security. If you choose to use facial recognition technology, add an extra layer of security by also using the good old password method, or fingerprint recognition.
  • Pick your battles. Use facial recognition for fun but use strong passwords to access data or features that require higher security such as payments and high-level private or company information.
  • If you are especially security-conscious, disable biometric features altogether. Simply turn off these features and others you do not require and just keep using passwords until a more secure method is available.

Find out more from SafeBee on how to create secure passwords.