The Pixel 4 face unlock may be lightning fast but it’s certainly not the most secure. And that’s coming straight from Google, so those prepping to get its new phone should seriously reconsider. Google’s going all out on facial recognition this year which is possibly why the Pixel 4 doesn’t have a fingerprint scanner anymore – sort of like the new iPhones. But unlike Apple’s Face ID, Google’s face unlock can be hacked by anybody.
And Google is letting the world know exactly how insecure its face unlock is. “Looking at your phone can unlock it even when you don’t intend to,” Google says on its official blog, which is okay. “Your phone can be unlocked by someone who looks a lot like you, like an identical sibling,” which is also fair enough. But it’s the next few sentences that raise alarms. “Your phone can also be unlocked by someone else if it’s held up to your face, even if your eyes are closed. Keep your phone in a safe place, like your front pocket or handbag.” Wait, what?
There are two reasons why Apple’s Face ID has become the gold standard to beat. One is of course the speed. Second is security. Face ID is set to require your attention by default – which means, you need to have your eyes open and you need to be looking at the iPhone’s screen to unlock it. You can disable this from settings but that’s totally your call. Apple doesn’t advise you to do that saying, “requiring attention makes Face ID more secure.”
There are rumours that Google is working on a manual toggle to enable a similar functionality in the Pixel 4, but clearly, it is not available at launch. We will have to wait and watch out on that. But until then, looks like using a PIN/password is the best possible way to keep things secure and private on the Pixel 4 which kind of makes the whole point of Google’s face unlock pointless at this point of time.
The Pixel 4 is the world’s first commercially available device with Soli – Google’s in-house motion sensing tech that uses a miniaturized radar capable of sensing small motions around the device. The Pixel 4, to that effect, packs a wide array of sensors at the top of the screen (which explains their thick forehead) - including a new Soli chip that brings advanced face unlock to it, with a combination of dedicated face unlock hardware including a pair of IR cameras and flood illuminator. The setup is similar to Apple’s but that Soli chip really makes the Pixel 4 face unlock up and running in a jiffy – which is why it’s faster.
Google is touting two aspects that make its face unlock more convenient (and faster) - Google’s tech seemingly “won’t require you to lift the device all the way up, pose in a certain way, wait for it to unlock, and then swipe to get to the home screen,” and it will “work in almost any orientation - even if you're holding it upside down.”
While all of that’s nice, Google needs to do something about the security aspect soon because that’s the whole point of having biometrics in the first place.