Right to Privacy

No, you can’t compare iPhone X’s FaceID to Aadhaar – but it is also scary for privacy

No one forces you to buy iPhones, unlike Aadhaar. But if you do, there might be cause for worry.

A rather common argument from people who would rather dismiss the privacy concerns over India’s biometric identity project, Aadhaar, is to point out how many willingly give their biometrics to other entities like their companies, foreign embassies or internet behemoths like Apple and Google. On Wednesday, when Apple unveiled the new iPhone X with its new FaceID feature, which allows you to unlock the phone simply by looking at it, the same questions came up: All those activists who complain about Aadhaar intruding on privacy, will they criticise Apple too?

The short answer is: Yes. There are many privacy concerns about Apple’s new technology, similar to questions raised about other uses of facial recognition especially as a way to unlock protected data. Some of these have to do with whether authorities can force you to unlock your phone by simply making you look at it. Others have to do with how securely the data about your face is kept and who has access to it. An entirely new question, consider Apple’s massive influence over smartphone design, is the iPhone X’s power to normalise always-on facial recognition without safeguards, a deeply disconcerting proposition.

What is the iPhone X’s FaceID?

The new $1,000 iPhone comes with a brand new set of sensors that will allow you to unlock your phone without having to touch it. All you have to do is look at it, and it will be unlocked. Look away, and it will be locked again. Apple says FaceID uses the front-facing camera and a host of sensors to create a 3D map of your face, that must then be matched for the phone to be unlocked.

The company took special efforts to insist that FaceID accounts for depth, so you cannot just use a photo of someone, and active attention, so a sleeping or unconscious person’s face cannot be used to unlock the phone. Whether it is as robust as the company claims remains to be seen, especially considering earlier attempts at the technology have been fooled by simple photoshopping.

Why is it not like Aadhaar?

The obvious answer, but one that bears repetition, is consent. Despite all claims from the government about India’s 12-digit unique identity project being voluntary, it has been forced on millions of people and of late, the state has dispensed even with the fiction of it being voluntary. It is now officially mandatory for certain services, even though the project is being challenged for violating the fundamental right to privacy in the Supreme Court.

An iPhone is not mandatory. No one is being forced to buy them. Over and above that, the use of FaceID on an iPhone is also not mandatory. Users who would prefer the much more secure route of a complex password can still do so.

There are a few additional safeguards that distinguish the two.

Apple – and Google’s Android since version 6.0 – claims that data about users faces, as with fingerprint data from its earlier TouchID system, will be stored in a “Secure Enclave” on the phone. This means the 3D face map generated by the phone is not uploaded to the cloud or Apple servers, where it might be leaked or retrieved by hackers. All the processing takes place on the phone itself. Aadhaar, however, is premised on the idea of a massive database that holds the biometric information of all Indian residents, which can then be accessed by any number of government services and private companies as well as seeded with other databases.


Additionally, there is no workaround for Aadhaar. If someone else gets your biometric information – like fingerprint data – it takes a lengthy and not fully understood process to prevent illicit activity using your Aadhaar. Apple lets you turn off both FaceID and TouchID and has now even made it simple, by letting you tap the power button five times as an SOS that turns off those features. So even if, say, a criminal or a police office were forcing you to unlock your phone with a fingerprint or your face, you could turn the function off.

Are there still privacy concerns with FaceID?

Yes. There are many. Just because it is not mandatory like Aadhaar does not mean privacy activists recommend you go out and get an iPhoneX with FaceID now.

The main question is how easily the technology can be fooled. Samsung’s facial recognition could be cracked with a photo. An Android feature that required you to blink before it unlocked was fooled with simple photoshop. And others have pointed out the potential for criminals or the police to use masks or even force someone to look at their phone as a means of unlocking it. Apple seems to have kept some of this in mind, but until the technology is tried out in the real world, we will not know how well it works.

But there may be a broader fear here that goes beyond just getting into your iPhone. By its very nature, for facial recognition to be seamless it has to be on all the time. That means your phone is constantly scanning everything in front of it at any given moment. This alone raises some privacy concerns, until you think about the second order problem. Apple has said that the 3D face mapping technology will also be used for other apps, like creating emojis that mimic your face.

Will that mean other apps, like the data-hungry Google and Facebook, will be able to scan your face while your are using your phone? Faces contain a huge amount of information, and facial expressions are even more valuable. Would Facebook be able to tell if you smiled at something, and were distracted by something else? Faces reveal age, ethnicity, emotional state and, according to some research, even sexual orientation. What happens when Apple and other apps have access to this information?

The follow-up question may be even more pertinent to India. Apple, thanks to the huge popularity of the iPhone, sets the tone for smartphone design globally. This means that, though others have experimented with facial recognition, it is now much more likely that other phone makers will follow suit. Because of the iPhone’s massive reach, it also gets a lot of scrutiny, and so its security provisions are carefully documented and understood.

In a country where Apple is just a niche player, however, the proliferation of facial recognition technology could compound the privacy concerns by a huge factor. Another phone maker, HTC, was for example found to be saving fingerprint data in unencrypted, uncompressed and unprotected files that could easily be accessed by any app. Although Google, the operating system that really matters in the Indian context, has improved its security architecture, it is the phone makers that will have to be trusted. Never mind the willingness to do so, will they even have the capability or – in the case of Chinese manufacturers – freedom to build systems that cannot be breached by the government or hackers?

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

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For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.