Google has just announced a face unlock feature for the upcoming Pixel 4, which claims to be as accurate and fast as the iPhone's Face ID. There have been hardware and code leaks that suggested that this feature came to the Pixel 4, but there was also a big hint: Google has publicly collected data to improve it.
As first revealed by ZDNet and Android police, Google employees have traversed the streets of American cities and offered $ 5 worth of vouchers in exchange for a face scan. Reached through The edge, Google confirmed that it performed what the & # 39; field research & # 39; calls to collect face scan data to improve its algorithms and thereby improve the accuracy of the Pixel 4.
A company spokesman confirmed that the purpose of the scans is to ensure that the Pixel 4 works with different faces. Biometric features – including face recognition – have a poor history of gender and racial prejudice. Amazon in particular has come under fire because of racial bias in its face-matching algorithms.
Google wants to prevent that with the Pixel 4. “Our goal is to build the function with robust security and performance. We also build it with inclusiveness in mind so that as many people as possible can benefit, "the spokesperson said in an email.
If the Pixel 4 is going to prevent that prejudice, Google must train its new algorithm on a wide range of faces – and only use employee faces is not going to work. The Google solution is therefore to approach people on the street, to pay and to receive confirmation for each scan.
Apple has achieved the same thing for what it is worth; it probably didn't send teams of people into the world to do it. This is how Cynthia Hogan, VP of Apple for public policy and government affairs for America, describes the Apple process in 2017:
The accessibility of the product for people of different races and ethnic groups was very important to us. Face ID uses face-dependent neural networks that we have developed using more than a billion images, including IR and depth images collected in studies conducted with the informed consent of the participants. We worked with participants from around the world to include a representative group of people responsible for gender, age, ethnicity, and other factors. We have expanded the studies where necessary to provide a high degree of accuracy for a wide range of users. In addition, a neural network trained to recognize and resist spoofing defends against attempts to unlock your phone with photos or masks.
Google collects infrared, color, and depth data from each face along with the time, ambient light level, and some related & # 39; task & # 39; information, such as picking up the phone from the table. The company also initially collected location information, but it tells me it doesn't need that information, so it will stop collecting and delete it.
Those data types give us an idea of how Google & # 39; s face unlock will work – it will indeed make a full map of your face to ensure accuracy and security – and it should work in the dark thanks to the infrared camera.
Here is how Google handles the data it collects, according to their spokesperson: "Although face samples may not be inherently anonymous, each participant is assigned an abstract identity number. We store each participant's email address separately to remove data on request. ”The last part is important: anyone who has participated in the Google field survey can ask to have their face data removed.
The face data is kept for 18 months (although the first consent forms for the field study were originally five years). Google says that the faces are never associated with a Google ID and that the face examples are "encrypted and access is limited".
Just to be clear: when the Pixel 4 is sent, the data it uses to unlock is used not are uploaded to Google's servers. In the blog post announcing the position, Google writes that:
Security and privacy are core principles for Pixel. Face unlocking uses face recognition technology that is processed on your device so that image data never leaves your phone. The images used for face unlocking are never saved or shared with other Google services. To protect your privacy and security, your face data is securely stored in Pixels Titan M security chip. Similarly, Soli sensor data is also processed on your phone and is never stored or shared with other Google services.
I think that if you are going to collect facial recognition data, there are narrower ways to address this than walking to someone, giving him a consent form and saying directly that you are from Google and that the data will be used for a & # 39; future Google product & # 39 ;. Like nothing else, Google's efforts to collect face data on this scale confirm that it is serious to create a face unlock function that is similar to or better than what you can get on modern iPhones.