Senator calls on Apple to address Face ID privacy concerns

Posted:
in iPhone edited September 2017
One day after Apple debuted its new depth-sensing Face ID biometric solution to the world, U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) is calling on CEO Tim Cook to address concerns over the technology's potential impact on consumer privacy and security.




Franken, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, in a letter (PDF link) to Cook on Wednesday asked a number of questions related to Apple's implementation of Face ID. For example, Franken requests information on how the system was created, how its supporting data structure is handled, what assurances are being made as to the protection of user data and the system's overall efficacy, among other pointed queries.

"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," Franken writes. "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. To offer clarity to the millions of Americans who use your products, I ask that you provide more information on how the company has processed these issues internally, as well as any additional steps that it intends to take to protect its users."

Exclusive to iPhone X, Face ID employs cutting edge technology to scan a user's face with pinpoint precision, allowing the system to stand in as a replacement for Apple's years-old Touch ID fingerprint recognition technology.

Part of the TrueDepth camera system, Face ID employs a dot projector, infrared camera and flood illuminator, along with neural network A11 Bionic SoC to collect depth map and image data of a user's face. Using this information, the A11 SoC creates a mathematical model the target face using an onboard neural network, data that is subsequently sent to a secure enclave for matching. Touch ID employs a similar method, minus the neural network.

Franken's first question touches on user privacy, which for years has been a hot-button topic for Silicon Valley hardware and software services firms that collect sensitive user data. Specifically, Franken asks whether Face ID "faceprint" data is stored onboard iPhone X, if this information can be extracted from the device and whether Apple plans to store the data on offsite servers. Another question asks what safeguards has Apple built into the system to prevent nefarious actors from unlocking iPhone X by simply holding it up to an owner's face.

At least some answers have already been provided by Apple in a press release on Tuesday that states, "All saved facial information is protected by the secure enclave to keep data extremely secure, while all of the processing is done on-device and not in the cloud to protect user privacy. Face ID only unlocks iPhone X when customers look at it and is designed to prevent spoofing by photos or masks."

During Tuesday's presentation, Apple executive Phil Schiller said engineers worked with thousands of people to generate "a billion images" with which to train Face ID's neural network. Franken asks Cook where the billion images originated and how . Schiller also noted the system is designed to protect against potential spoofing via 2D photograph, adding that engineers worked with Hollywood prop makers to ensure Face ID can't be tricked by masks. Franken asks for more information regarding the process.

Quizically, one of Franken's questions asks, "What steps did Apple take to ensure its system was trained on a diverse set of faces, in terms of race, gender, and age? How is Apple protecting against racial, gender, or age bias in Face ID?"

Considering the system works using digital representations of a human face, essentially 3D modeling, questions regarding race, gender and age are nonstarters.

Other concerns raised in the letter include sharing faceprint information with outside parties, in particular third-party apps or other commercial parties. Franken also requests information as to whether Face ID is "always on," or perpetually searching for faces to scan, and if the system captures and stores raw photos of faces that attempt to unlock a phone.

Finally, Franken asks Cook how Apple will respond to law enforcement requests to access faceprint data or the Face ID system itself. Apple in the past has been reluctant to share such information, and has been especially protective of hardware security technology. Last year, for example, Apple sparked a contentious debate over encryption when it refused to comply with a court order demanding the company build a workaround to security protocols safeguarding an iPhone used by a suspect in the San Bernardino terror attacks.

Franken asks that Cook reply to the letter by Oct. 13.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 79
    Because there’s nothing else going on in the world.... politicians.... 🤢
    anton zuykovicoco3peterhartbaconstanglolliverrepressthiscaliwilliamlondonjbdragonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 79
    Franken should just stick to being a really crappy lawmaker whose only contribution to the Senate is CO2.
    mike1calired oaksimply258jbdragonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 79
    SoliSoli Posts: 6,196member
    I like Franken, but the privacy concerns are in the opposite direction.

    anton zuykovroundaboutnowdesignrStrangeDaysbaconstangrepressthis
  • Reply 4 of 79
    This senator got no clue on how security in mobile devices work. It's called "encryption". Apple already succeeded on how to store users' financial data, it doesn't have problem to store a damn "face" data. This is where Politician and Technology don't mix.
    patchythepirateavidappleguypeterhartmacxpresslolliverrepressthiscalijbdragonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 79
    rob53rob53 Posts: 1,766member
    Damn, Franken should have listened to the keynote. Craig stated everything about Face ID is stored in the secure enclave, which is next to impossible to get into. Franken needs to push for better security within the government, including not giving clearances and access to classified information to all those government officials who can't keep their traps shut!!!

    I expect Apple to submit Face ID along with iOS 11 for government approval just like all the other version have been. Once that's done, Franken and all the others can simply read the approval documents and try and understand what's going on.

    He probably wants to know how easy it will be for police to gently force iPhone users to "engage" their phones so Face ID can actually do it's thing. 
    edited September 2017 patchythepirateStrangeDaysbaconstanglolliverrepressthisradarthekatjbdragonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 79
    Billions posting their faces all over Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat, etc, nobody bats an eye. Apple releases facial recognition feature that's securely stored on a highly encrypted chip, everyone loses their minds. 🤷🏽‍♂️
    patchythepiraterob53avidappleguyleavingthebiggslprescottrandominternetpersonpeterhartoneof52brucemcStrangeDays
  • Reply 7 of 79
    Tim should tell the senator to hit the highway.
    avidappleguyjdwkingofsomewherehotlollivercaliravnorodomanton zuykovwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 79
    quinneyquinney Posts: 2,494member
    I hope Al wrote a letter to Equifax also.
    rob53Soliavidappleguyoneof52libertykrsbaconstangstompycalianton zuykovjbdragon
  • Reply 9 of 79
    I doubt Franken has any anti-Apple agenda here. People are on edge regarding anything to do with personal data, the Internet, devices, security etc.  they want the politician to ask questions, even if they seem overly simple.  We have had politicians in the past who were science and tech savvy, but they still asked simple questions and avoided any detailed technical speak.  This is because the majority of people in our country are utterly devoid of any science knowledge. If I were to say "The electron has a negative charge" most people in the US would get a blank stare on their faces and go "wut?"  So while those of use who don't fear or avoid science and technology, wish politicians would raise the bar a bit, it's never going to happen since they need the nincompoops votes.  It's just how the system works, so I'm not holding anything against Franken and others who ask valid but simple or even redundant questions.  Now, the ones who ask loaded questions with an anti-science agenda - I have no use for them.
    minicoffeebill42baconstangbeowulfschmidtjony0
  • Reply 10 of 79
    rob53rob53 Posts: 1,766member
    You know Apple had a great presentation yesterday with dynamite products because every fool (yes, I'm talking about those analysts and Apple haters) came out of the woodwork with all sorts of speculation saying everything is wrong with what Apple is doing. Just look at all the press attacking Apple, especially over Face ID. Consumers were polled and they didn't think it was secure enough to use. It just came out yesterday, they haven't the faintest idea what secure means or how anything on a smartphone actually works.

    I see all this chatter as absolutely supporting Apple and its direction. Trolls and haters can go find a cheap a** Android phone as far as I'm concerned. The iPhone X is a definite hit!
    lollivercalijbdragonjony0watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 79
    Posturing on high profile issues is how slimy politicians get attention. Railing on about the politician's ignorance of the matter is a waste of time, as the facts aren't why they are making a noise in the first place. It's all about getting attention. This particular specimen of the species is just a bit more well known for it.
    lolliverbeowulfschmidtwatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 79
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 5,653member
    I don't recall Franken sending a letter to Samsung when they introduced their own face recognition feature (which apparently is easily fooled by a photograph). Some one please fill me in.
    peterhartanantksundaramStrangeDaysbaconstangmike1stompylolliverpropodcaliwilliamlondon
  • Reply 13 of 79
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 5,653member
    rob53 said:
    You know Apple had a great presentation yesterday with dynamite products because every fool (yes, I'm talking about those analysts and Apple haters) came out of the woodwork with all sorts of speculation saying everything is wrong with what Apple is doing. Just look at all the press attacking Apple, especially over Face ID. Consumers were polled and they didn't think it was secure enough to use. It just came out yesterday, they haven't the faintest idea what secure means or how anything on a smartphone actually works.

    I see all this chatter as absolutely supporting Apple and its direction. Trolls and haters can go find a cheap a** Android phone as far as I'm concerned. The iPhone X is a definite hit!
    To be sure a lot of the questions about security probably arose from the stupidly crappy Samsung implementation of face recognition.
    baconstanglollivercalilostkiwijony0watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 79
    Franken's subliminal question is basically "how will the Muslim population that lives in his State be able to use FACE ID with a burqa?"
    edited September 2017 jdwRoxy Balboawatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 79
    STFU, Al.

    You're good, you're smart, gosh-darn-it you're worth it, but this seems to be beyond your competence, Stu.
    StrangeDaysbaconstang
  • Reply 15 of 79
    SoliSoli Posts: 6,196member
    lkrupp said:
    rob53 said:
    You know Apple had a great presentation yesterday with dynamite products because every fool (yes, I'm talking about those analysts and Apple haters) came out of the woodwork with all sorts of speculation saying everything is wrong with what Apple is doing. Just look at all the press attacking Apple, especially over Face ID. Consumers were polled and they didn't think it was secure enough to use. It just came out yesterday, they haven't the faintest idea what secure means or how anything on a smartphone actually works.

    I see all this chatter as absolutely supporting Apple and its direction. Trolls and haters can go find a cheap a** Android phone as far as I'm concerned. The iPhone X is a definite hit!
    To be sure a lot of the questions about security probably arose from the stupidly crappy Samsung implementation of face recognition.
    But Samsung beat Apple and all that matters¡
    baconstangcaliwatto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 79

    Welcome to the Senator Al Franken Dog and Pony Show!
    jdgazStrangeDayslollivercaliwatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 79
    Grand standing yappy dogs rule the political landscape in the US. We can only hope they don't drop turds on the carpets too often.

     It goes from sad desolation of ideas on the dem side to a horrific traffic pillup of craptastic zombie (back to the 19th century) ideologies on the GOP side. Complete bummer.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 79
    quinney said:
    I hope Al wrote a letter to Equifax also.
    No kidding. The Equifax breach directly and negatively affects 147 million Americans and this dummy wants to haul in Apple about Face ID. Who are the idiots who elected this "comedian"?
    caliboltsfan17watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 79
    fahlman said:

    Welcome to the Senator Al Franken Dog and Pony Show!
    That's the whole US right now, one of the worse reality show that's ever been filmed.

    If they could boot off the worse 10000 in a televised fights to the death it would improve thing instantly.
    caliwatto_cobra
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