Google: Android Face Unlock could be fooled by photo

Google has admitted its Face Unlock feature of Ice Cream Sandwich could be fooled by a photo, somewhat undermining its security.

Joe Svetlik Reporter
Joe has been writing about consumer tech for nearly seven years now, but his liking for all things shiny goes back to the Gameboy he received aged eight (and that he still plays on at family gatherings, much to the annoyance of his parents). His pride and joy is an Infocus projector, whose 80-inch picture elevates movie nights to a whole new level.
Joe Svetlik
2 min read

Face Unlock is one of the flagship features of Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest version of Android announced earlier this week, and does exactly what it says on the tin -- lets you unlock your phone by holding it up to your face.

Except there's a chance it could be fooled by a picture of your mug.

SlashGear reports that Google has admitted the security system is still in its early stages, so could possibly be fooled by a picture of you rather than the real thing. It's a bit of a shame, seeing as the system is designed to recognise only your pre-registered face, rather than a PIN code, fingerprint, or, yes, a picture of you. So anyone with a photo of you, or maybe even just access to your Facebook photos, could potentially access your phone.

Indeed the technology has already been used for research companies to plunder Facebook profiles. It was developed by PittPatt, a startup originating from Carnegie Mellon University, which was subsequently acquired by Google.

When questioned as to the reliability of Face Unlock, a Google spokesperson told SlashGear that the feature "will only get better." They said using a photo to unlock your phone "might work," [their italics] because the technology is relatively young. Tim Bray, who works on Android, previously denied this was possible, responding to an accusation Face Unlock was hackable by saying, "Nope. Give us some credit."

We'll bring you a full verdict as soon as we get in the Samsung Galaxy Nexus to test. It's the first Android Ice Cream Sandwich handset to break cover, and so comes with Face Unlock, navigation buttons on the screen rather than physical buttons, and the ability to go to an app even when the phone is locked. Ice Cream Sandwich also has the ability to take screengrabs, resize widgets on the home screens, make wireless payments and contact other phones thanks to NFC.

Are you phased by this potential flaw in the phizzog recognition system? Hit us up at our Facebook page and let us know.