The Google Pixel 4 and 4 XL are finally official, and as the leaks suggested, there’s no fingerprint sensor. Google is going the same route as Apple with an IR-based 3D face unlock system. With “Face Match” being the Pixel’s only biometric option, you’d naturally want it to be bulletproof. Well, Google seems to have made a major oversight when it designed Face Match on the Pixel 4. It can unlock the phone even if your eyes are closed, for example, if you’re sleeping.
Google couldn’t even wait for the announcement to talk about its face unlock tech — it released a blog post a few weeks back that talked about the Soli radar module and the hardware required for secure face unlock. In fairness, that’s an important distinction. Plenty of Android phones have face unlock presented as an option, but almost all of them use the front-facing selfie camera to do it. The 2D images you get from the camera are very easy to spoof, so it’s not considered a secure unlock method.
To make Face Match secure, Google included hardware similar to what Apple uses in the iPhone. There’s an IR dot projector, an IR flood illuminator, and a pair of IR cameras. Together, they can scan your face in 3D regardless of ambient lighting. However, Google’s Face Match doesn’t check to make sure your eyes are open. Apple, on the other hand, only unlocks your phone if your eyes are open by default. You can disable this feature in settings.
Google has touted its Face Match system as even faster than Apple’s Face ID, and iPhone users seem to have adapted to that reasonably well. It’s possible Google’s version would have been noticeably slower if it took time to check for open eyes. That means someone can unlock your Pixel while you’re asleep as long as your full face is visible.
Google recommends users uncomfortable with this familiarize themselves with Lockdown mode, a feature that disables all biometric unlock options until you authenticate with the backup method. It’s not exactly a solution, but you could just activate Lockdown from the power menu before you take a nap. Ideally, Google will update the phone with some sort of “consciousness check.”
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