New iPhone brings face recognition (and fears) to the masses

Various models of iPhone are displayed during a preview event at an Apple Michigan Avenue store, in this Oct. 19, 2017 photo, in downtown Chicago. (AP)
Updated 29 October 2017
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New iPhone brings face recognition (and fears) to the masses

WASHINGTON: Apple will let you unlock the iPhone X with your face — a move likely to bring facial recognition to the masses, along with concerns over how the technology may be used for nefarious purposes.
Apple’s newest device, set to go on sale November 3, is designed to be unlocked with a facial scan with a number of privacy safeguards — as the data will only be stored on the phone and not in any databases.
Unlocking one’s phone with a face scan may offer added convenience and security for iPhone users, according to Apple, which claims its “neural engine” for FaceID cannot be tricked by a photo or hacker.
While other devices have offered facial recognition, Apple is the first to pack the technology allowing for a three-dimensional scan into a hand-held phone.
But despite Apple’s safeguards, privacy activists fear the widespread use of facial recognition would “normalize” the technology and open the door to broader use by law enforcement, marketers or others of a largely unregulated tool.
“Apple has done a number of things well for privacy but it’s not always going to be about the iPhone X,” said Jay Stanley, a policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union.
“There are real reasons to worry that facial recognition will work its way into our culture and become a surveillance technology that is abused.”
A study last year by Georgetown University researchers found nearly half of all Americans in a law enforcement database that includes facial recognition, without their consent.
Civil liberties groups have sued over the FBI’s use of its “next generation” biometric database, which includes facial profiles, claiming it has a high error rate and the potential for tracking innocent people.
“We don’t want police officers having a watch list embedded in their body cameras scanning faces on the sidewalk,” said Stanley.
Clare Garvie — the Georgetown University Law School associate who led the 2016 study on facial recognition databases — agreed that Apple is taking a responsible approach but others might not.
“My concern is that the public is going to become inured or complacent about this,” Garvie said.

Widespread use of facial recognition “could make our lives more trackable by advertisers, by law enforcement and maybe someday by private individuals,” she said.
Garvie said her research found significant errors in law enforcement facial recognition databases, opening up the possibility someone could be wrongly identified as a criminal suspect.
Another worry, she said, is that police could track individuals who have committed no crime simply for participating in demonstrations.
Shanghai and other Chinese cities have recently started deploying facial recognition to catch those who flout the rules of the road, including jaywalkers.
Facial recognition and related technologies can also be used by retail stores to identify potential shoplifters, and by casinos to pinpoint undesirable gamblers.
It can even be used to deliver personalized marketing messages — and could have some other potentially unnerving applications.
Last year, a Russian photographer figured out how to match the faces of porn stars with their social media profiles to “doxx” them, or reveal their true identities.
This type of use “can create huge problems,” said Garvie. “We have to consider the worst possible uses of the technology.”
Apple’s system uses 30,000 infrared dots to create a digital image which is stored in a “secure enclave,” according to a white paper issued by the company on its security. It said the chances of a “random” person being able to unlock the device are one in a million, compared with one in 50,000 for its TouchID.

Apple’s FaceID is likely to touch off fresh legal battles about whether police can require someone to unlock a device.
FaceID “brings the company deeper into a legal debate” that stemmed from the introduction of fingerprint identification on smartphones, according to ACLU staff attorney Brett Max Kaufman.
Kaufman says in a blog post that courts will be grappling with the constitutional guarantees against unreasonable searches and self-incrimination if a suspect is forced to unlock a device.
US courts have generally ruled that it would violate a user’s rights to give up a passcode because it is “testimonial” — but that situation becomes murkier when biometrics are applied.
Apple appears to have anticipated this situation by allowing a user to press two buttons for two seconds to require a passcode, but Garvie said court battles over compelling the use of FaceID are likely.
Regardless of these concerns, Apple’s introduction is likely to bring about widespread use of facial recognition technology.
“What Apple is doing here will popularize and get people more comfortable with the technology,” said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, who follows the sector.
“If I look at Apple’s track record of making things easy for consumers, I’m optimistic users are going to like this.”
Garvie added it is important to have conversations about facial recognition because there is little regulation governing the use of the technology.
“The technology may well be inevitable,” she said.
“It is going to become part of everyone’s lives if it isn’t already.”


Start-up of the Week: The app that restores work-life balance

Updated 19 June 2018
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Start-up of the Week: The app that restores work-life balance

  • MRSOOL helps consumers to transport goods from any store to their door
  • Since 2017 MRSOOL has had more than 80,000 couriers across the Kingdom, potentially earning the couriers an average SR 10,000 ($2,700) within two months.

JEDDAH: Too many errands, too little time? This is how MRSOOL co-founder Naif Al-Simri used to feel, so he decided to do something about it — and not just for himself.

Realizing that he was not managing to successfully juggle the demands of his job and his family, he started to think about how he could manage things better.

His thought processes eventually led him to develop MRSOOL, an app that helps consumers to transport goods from any store to their door. All consumers need to do is post their orders, and an MRSOOL courier will go to the store to pick up and deliver the desired items to them. 

“I used to work a lot and I was not at home. My family always needed something, but I could not do it for them because of work commitments. So I would suffer because I could not do their errands and also could not find a solution. The fact that I could not find a solution would upset my family,” he said. 

Thinking about the problem — and how it affected so many people in the modern world — triggered a lightbulb moment for Al-Simri. He came up with the idea of creating a platform that would deliver anything, without him having to leave the office and pick up his family. 

“If I had to run errands I would have to leave the office and take them (to the shops). That is like five trips, so I thought to myself what if I have someone who lives close by pick up what is needed on his way and make money by doing it,” he said. 

He started to outline his idea to some of his close friends who work in app development. He talked through whether they thought there was market demand for such a service and analyzed the challenges. As he threw around ideas with friends, he was starting to formulate a business plan. It was at this stage that he started to see the potential.

He discussed the concept with Ayman Al-Sanad (a friend?), and although Al-Sanad had come up against Al-Simri’s ideas before, and was cautious about practicalities, his future partner was impressed by the proposal. Nevertheless, Al-Sanad made some suggestions for tweaking the original idea. 

“I took Ayman’s feedback and went back to the drawing board. We were both working at the time so we would touch base on weekends to discuss our development and progress,” Al-Simri added.

The two future partners started working together to develop the application, which was eventually launched in 2015. Today MRSOOL serves the whole country and there are plans to expand to the GCC and Arab countries.

Not only is MRSOOL now ranked in the top 10 applications in the Kingdom, with a star rating of 4.8 out of 5, but it is even listed in the top 200 active applications by the US Apple store. 

Since 2017 MRSOOL has had more than 80,000 couriers across the Kingdom, potentially earning the couriers an average SR 10,000 ($2,700) within two months.