using face idThe much-anticipated iPhone X finally hit stores nationwide on Friday, Nov. 3, and like many other Americans, I picked my phone up on release day. Although it comes loaded with new features, such as an improved screen display, higher resolutions, better rear-facing and front-facing cameras, water resistance features, wireless charging capabilities and Animojis, the thing most people were excited about and are still buzzing about is Face ID. After having the iPhone X for about a week now, I’ve decided against using Face ID. Here’s why.

What is Face ID?

Apple released three new phones recently: the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and the iPhone X, the last of which did away with a home button altogether and implemented the new Face ID technology. This feature is supposed to be more advanced and secure than Touch ID, a fingerprint sensor that iPhone users have grown accustomed to using for things like unlocking their phones and authenticating purchases in the app store as well as with Apple Pay. While Touch ID used your fingerprint for these functions, Face ID uses facial recognition technology to complete them.

How does it work?

Face ID uses the iPhone’s TrueDepth camera system to scan your face, and then saves the Face ID data in what Apple calls the secure enclave, which means the data is stored on the device and not sent to Apple’s servers. The data Face ID stores is not an actual picture of your face, but mathematical representations of your face that it creates using an infrared emitter and ambient light sensor, which work to project tiny little dots onto your face and take several images of your face and your facial features. This is why flashing a photo of yourself to try to use Face ID won’t work, as the technology creates a depth map of your face, not just a 2-D image. To set up and use Face ID, you’ll need to go to the privacy settings on the iPhone X and select “Face ID & Passcodes.” From there, you’ll tap “Set Up Face ID” and follow the prompts. You’ll be asked to move your head in a complete circle while facing the front-facing camera twice. If “Face ID is now set up,” you’re all set. After the two scans are complete and they’re saved in the phone, you can select how you want to use Face ID. You can use it to unlock your phone, authorize Apple Pay or log into other apps that once required your fingerprint with Touch ID. Apple claims that the technology adapts to your appearance, as it gets smarter over time, meaning even if you grow a beard, cut your hair or get new glasses, Face ID will still be able to recognize you.

What are its advantages?

Anyone who’s been using Touch ID, which has been a feature on all iPhones since the iPhone 5S, will enjoy the convenience of Face ID. It’s faster and contains less room for error than Touch ID, which sometimes wouldn’t work for users if their fingers were wet, dirty or getting indirect contact with the phone — requiring users to put in a passcode instead. Other security-enabled apps that once allowed Touch ID are all supposed to be compatible with Face ID now. Peer-to-peer payment apps, like Venmo for example, allow users to set a security passcode or use your fingerprint to log in. If you use this optional security setting, it will prompt you to enter this passcode or use your fingerprint every time you open the app. This is a feature I used on my iPhone 6, and also something that I authorized to use Touch ID with. So now that the iPhone X has no home button (which means no Touch ID), I’m required to enter my Venmo passcode every time to open the app. This isn’t a huge nuisance, as Venmo only allows you to create a 4-digit passcode, but when it comes to other financial apps, like my online banking app with Wells Fargo that requires a more complex password, I can see the real advantage of using Face ID.

Authorizing purchases with Apple Pay as well as confirming “one-click” purchases in the Amazon app have become even simpler with Face ID and the TrueDepth camera on the iPhone X because all it takes is a quick glance at your front-facing camera to confirm your purchase. Warby Parker has also introduced a neat feature that allows you to try on glasses in its app using the TrueDepth camera technology. The Warby Parker app also make suggestions for what style of frames fit your face best. Although these are just a few ways that other apps are using Face ID and the TrueDepth camera, it’s still a relatively new feature to Apple, so other perks like this will likely continue to roll out with other apps.

What are its disadvantages and privacy concerns?

As with any new technology, especially biometric technology, there are some privacy concerns — and rightfully so. While Apple claims that your Face ID data is encrypted and “protected with a key available only to the secure enclave,” meaning your data will never be sent to or stored on an outside server, we live in a world of data breaches. And as we recently saw with the massive Equifax breach, not even credit bureaus are safe from hackers. The most alarming part of this is not that hackers could obtain pictures of your face, but that they could obtain a map of your entire face and your facial features, as Face ID captures a virtual map of your entire face (including sub-surface features). With this information, a thief could essentially recreate your face.

Although facial recognition isn’t completely new, as both Android and Google devices have been using facial recognition as an unlock option and it’s been used in other instances, it’s still a new technology for Apple. In fact, while many consumers have unsuccessfully tried to trick Face ID by using masks of their faces or photos of their faces, there are a few ways it can unlock for someone other than yourself. Twins and triplets, for example, have been able to unlock each other’s phones, and even siblings who aren’t twins have been able to teach Face ID to work for the other sibling — whenever Face ID fails and you enter your passcode, you are teaching it to recognize that failed face. This aspect of “learning” that Apple boasts about with Face ID certainly highlights one of its early, if not many, vulnerabilities.

Perhaps the biggest concern is what third parties can do with the TrueDepth camera and its data. According to Reuters, Apple will allow third party apps to take parts of your facial data (like when playing a game which uses the TrueDepth camera) “as long as they agree to seek customer permission and not sell the data to third parties.” Although developers will not have access to the data that is used to encrypt your phone (like the mathematical representations of your face), it is still somewhat concerning that Apple would allow this. This is definitely not what Apple initially agreed to when it first announced the iPhone X back in September, which shows that even in two months’ time, anything regarding its terms of service could change, and not in favor of consumers’ privacy.

Why I won’t be using Face ID

In the first few days of using my iPhone X, I’ll admit that I was beginning to see how easy and convenient Face ID would be, as I almost caved and registered my face with it, but after weighing the advantages and disadvantages, I decided I won’t be using it — at least for now. Although Face ID would make logging into certain apps easier, considering I’m required to enter my password every single time I open a number of my phone’s apps, I’m okay with things being a little more tedious if it means protecting my facial privacy. After all, it’s not a big deal to me to manually enter my password on certain apps, especially ones that contain sensitive, financial information, to know that my facial map will not be sold or leaked to someone without my knowledge. And even though I did use Touch ID with my iPhone 6, Face ID just seems a bit too invasive for my liking. Until Apple perfects this technology, works out the other kinks and guarantees users that their face map won’t be exposed, I won’t be using it.

To learn more about emerging technology and the security implications that come along with it, follow our technology blog.