Why This Story About A Mother Who’s Son Can Unlock Her iPhone X Via Face ID Can Be Easily Debunked

There’s a story that’s making the rounds today which came about as a result of this video that was posted to YouTube. In it, a mother demonstrates how her 10 year old son can unlock her iPhone X via Face ID:

Now the two family members do share a similarity in how they look. But they are not identical twins. Thus this should not happen and Apple has a big problem on its hands, right?

Not so fast.

The folks at WIRED took the time to interview them. And as part of the interview the interviewer made an observation, and from that devised an experiment:

At WIRED’s suggestion, Malik asked his wife to re-register her face to see what would happen. After Sherwani freshly programmed her face into the phone, it no longer allowed Ammar access. To further test it, Sherwani tried registering her face again a few hours later, to replicate the indoor, nighttime lighting conditions in which she first set up her iPhone X. The problem returned; Ammar unlocked the phone on his third try this time. It worked again on his sixth try. At that point, Malik says, the phone’s AI seemed to learn Ammar’s features, and he could consistently unlock it again and again. 

So lighting played a role in this. But that’s not the only factor. What seems to be going on is that Face ID is taking the enrollment that was done in low light conditions and trying to learn to enhance its accuracy and not quite getting it right. This is backed up by what’s in the Face ID security guide [Warning: PDF]:

Conversely, if Face ID fails to recognize you, but the match quality is higher than a certain threshold and you immediately follow the failure by entering your passcode, Face ID takes another capture and augments its enrolled Face ID data with the newly calculated mathematical representation.

Thus the easy fix for what this mother encountered is to re-register your face in ideal conditions so that Face ID doesn’t get fooled. Though, I think Apple should also look at this situation and see if it can enhance its machine learning to mitigate this situation. So, unlike the other Face ID situation that I brought to you earlier today, this one has some takeaways for both Apple and users of the iPhone X. Though it can also be filed under “debunked,”


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