People coin phrases all the time. It’s my turn. How about this one. I call it, Techno-Xenophobia. Allow me to define this cleverly named new affliction this way:
An overriding fear of technology outside one’s sphere of influence and understanding.
You see such fears everywhere. My wife has a friend who will not wear a seat belt while driving. It’s the law here in Florida. Why won’t she wear a seat belt? She’s afraid she’ll be in an accident where the car catches on fire or drives into a flooded ditch (we get those here; it’s a thing with drunk drivers and young drivers) and won’t be able to get the seat belt off.
Irrational? You bet. Common? More than you think.
What about techno-xenophobia and Apple. We saw this parade a few years ago when Apple introduced the Touch ID fingerprint sensor. Even though Apple explained it all in detail, that didn’t stop techno-xenophobic members of the elected U.S. government to issue pronouncements and ask for more clarity.
The same affliction popped up here and there. I would ask a family friend or neighbor how they liked Touch ID on their new iPhones. The response too often was something like this, “I don’t use it. I don’t want my fingerprint all over the interwebs.”
Here we are in 2017 and Touch ID runs on about 1-billion iOS devices world wide, and most iPhone and iPad customers love it. It just works. No image of a fingerprint is stored on the iPhone or iPad (and now, MacBook Pro models) and an easier way of unlocking your device without using a long and cumbersome password couldn’t be found.
Except Apple found one.
This one is called Face ID and Apple says it’s more secure than Touch ID and much more difficult to spoof. Again, the face recognition image is stored on the device and not on iCloud and Apple isn’t collecting faces for Skynet, but, sure enough, just like swallows returning to Capistrano, elected U.S. government officials want to find out what is going on with Apple capturing all those faces.
Ever the comedian and curmudgeon-less comedian, the sometimes honorable Senator Al Franken to Apple CEO Tim Cook:
Substantial questions remain about how Face ID will impact iPhone users’ privacy and security, and whether the technology will perform equally well on different groups of people.
Translation: Will people of color be able to use Face ID?
Don’t believe me?
Many facial recognition systems have a higher rate of error when tested for accuracy in identifying people of color, which may be explained by variety of factors, including a lack of diversity in the faces that were used to train a system.
Translation: Did you bother to try it on faces of people with color?
See the problem? People elected to help run the country don’t really know how the country runs, and definitely don’t have a handle on technology we know, use, and love everyday.
Wait. There’s more.
Unlike a password, an individual’s faceprint is permanent, public, and uniquely identifies its owner. As a result, should a bad actor gain access to the faceprint data that Face ID requires, the ramifications could last forever, particularly if Apple’s biometric technology comes to be used in other devices and settings.
Translation: Where do you store the face image? Can anybody see it?
Alright, I get Franken’s thought here. It’s logical and plausible, and Franken asks a few mostly lame questions could be construed as interesting, but not exactly vital to the success or viability of Face ID.
I would prefer that Franken ask similar questions of those who run the C.I.A., the N.S.A., and other government agencies which have performed illegal surveillance of U.S. citizens for years.
Apple seems to be doing just fine keeping customer data, privacy, and security safe. The government cannot say the same thing.