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We can use facial authentication for more than unlocking our phone

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Apple’s product release events are known for the stage where innovative products and services are introduced to the world for the first time. From Steve Jobs pulling the iPod out of his pocket to the debut of the iPhone, the event’s reputation is known as a must-see reveal.

In 2017, Apple’s flagship event was defined not by a groundbreaking new product, but by a significant hardware shift. Instead of using a person’s fingerprint or passcode for authentication, the iPhone would use the face as a credential. Called FaceID, the technology revolutionized access control for our devices by introducing a secure and passive authentication experience for everyone, making it second nature to many not realizing what goes on behind the scenes.

The technology was reportedly 20 times safer than fingerprint readers, and it was one of the projects at Apple that I worked on as an engineer in the new product introduction group.

As a young engineer who recently graduated from Stanford, I loved working on this prolific technology firsthand in Cupertino. The passive experience vision with FaceID on mobile was also easy to imagine in the built world: the ‘magic’ of autonomous technology that does something for us in the physical environment without our proactive involvement. As I worked in the access control spaces around me, from corporate offices to entering my apartment building, and thought about how many people were accessing their seemingly safe work and living environments through traditional, low-tech non-secure solutions, an idea was born. What if the physical badges, the human guards, and security turnstiles found in many businesses and commercial places, not just San Francisco and Silicon Valley, but around the world, could be replaced with something “magical.”

The connection was clear to me. Secure and passive facial authentication would have a major impact on physical security. There was a clear need in the real world, especially in a corporate environment, to use such technology to help employees feel safe, protect corporate IP, and enable building owners effective processes that reduce friction and errors.

Security is now more important than ever

Fast forward to the present, and after successive pandemic years in which the workforce was refocused and technological adoption accelerated, safety and security are increasingly coming to the fore.

According to an analysis, workplace safety is a major concern for many people, leading to three times more redundancy applications than work environments where people feel safe. What’s more, the Association for Human Resources Management warns that incidents of workplace violence could increase as companies bring people back to the office.

Of course, as companies face ongoing workforce challenges and adopt more distributed work arrangements, deploying additional security personnel is a practical and financial non-starter. In addition, businesses often protect critical resources such as data centers that are located in different locations, making facial authentication security a natural next step to ensure the right people are in the right place at the right time.

A new look at workplace safety

Facial authentication changes physical security by creating a passive yet secure authentication experience that is more secure and convenient than existing security protocols.

It is clear that facial authentication is more convenient than traditional access control tools such as keys and card readers, which can be lost, forgotten or stolen. Particularly for industries such as healthcare, data centers and utilities, these features are becoming increasingly important and undeniably more convenient.

For example, healthcare facilities can use facial authentication to protect pharmacy and drug storage, streamline visitor authentication, and maintain access to data centers and secure offices.

Likewise, enterprise organizations and data centers can use facial authentication to provide vendor and visitor authentication, while providing two-factor authentication and bumper detection to enhance security without increasing physical oversight.

Regardless of the use case, facial authentication access control systems help businesses answer three critical questions:

  • Have I implemented the solutions needed to ensure my people stay safe and healthy?
  • Do I have the capacity to ensure facilities and assets are secure in a distributed work environment?
  • Are we achieving security goals without undermining productivity?

Ultimately, facial authentication will be a common method in anything that requires more security, but eventually trickles down to every industry, including replacing keys and card readers to become the de facto access-control authentication method.

One last point

Facial verification should not be confused with facial recognition. The latter is susceptible to abuse as governments, companies and other entities use public data (as well as data collected without consent) to identify or track people without their knowledge.

This isn’t what Apple’s FaceID does, nor is it what access control solutions do. Instead, authentication corresponds to specific enrollees, where people agree to their own identity without plugging into important databases.

In other words, authentication is using your face to access a product or location, not a generic identifier. When done properly, this process can be very secure by working privately without saving any visual data.

In 2017, Apple helped make facial authentication the primary authentication method on mobile. This ubiquitous technology fades into the background while keeping our most sensitive data safe. Now is the time for that technology to affect our physical spaces, bringing the same level of simplicity and sophistication that we already have in the palm of our hands for our physical spaces.

Vince Gaydarzhiev is the president and CPO of Alcatraz AIan artificial intelligence company that uses facial authentication technology to create autonomous access control solutions for enterprises.

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