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Under Apple, Google is taking a new path for facial recognition on Pixel phones

Under Apple, Google is taking a new path for facial recognition on Pixel phones
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Written by Barish Dev

(Reuters) – Facial recognition returned to the latest Google Pixel phones Thursday after a brief hiatus due to cost and performance challenges, according to three former employees of the Alphabet (NASDAQ:) Inc unit familiar with the efforts.

The feature found in the new Pixel 7 isn’t Apple Inc’s (NASDAQ:) Face ID unlocking mechanism, as it can struggle in low light and be more vulnerable to scams. Additionally, Google said it’s not secure enough to enable logging in to apps or making payments.

The payoff comes after Google got tougher about launching products with facial recognition, in part due to questions about their performance on dark skin. One source said the company has taken time to review its approach to training and testing facial recognition since the previous Pixel with the capability launched in 2019.

Google declined to comment on several specific questions about its history with face unlock. Overall, he said, “Thanks to advanced machine learning models for facial recognition, the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro feature face unlock, but we do it a little differently.” “We’re doing really well in facial accuracy with the front camera,” she added.

Sources said Google’s quest for face unlock for Android smartphones spans at least a decade, but came under greater pressure when Apple released Face ID in September 2017.

Until that point, one source said, Google had struggled to devise a system that would work fast and not be spoofed, or use hyper-realistic photos or costumes to trick someone else’s phone into unlocking it. The source said the engineers played with the request to smile or blink – to demonstrate a person’s “liveliness” – to combat plagiarism, but it was awkward and slow.

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Another source noted that after the arrival of Apple’s Face ID, which uses a depth sensor and an infrared camera called TrueDepth to map a face, Google executives signed on to similar technology. Google’s Pixel 4, released in 2019, called its infrared depth-sensing setup uDepth.

It performed well, including in dark conditions, with a less than 1 in 50,000 chance of unlocking the phone for an unauthorized face, according to Google.

But the equipment was expensive. And while Apple sells 240 million iPhones a year, Google has exceeded a few million, which has prevented it from buying parts at Apple’s discount prices.

Sources said Google dropped uDepth in the Pixel 5 in 2020 due to costs.

Two sources said that masking the face due to the pandemic gave Google a reason to exclude the feature from the Pixel 6 last year and additional research time.

Face unlock in new phones is based on the typical front camera. But unlike the previous system, it can’t securely unlock apps and payments because Google says the chances of spoofing – such as pinning a user’s photo – are greater than 20%, which is above the 7% limit it requires to be considered “more secure”.

Google says that low light and sunglasses can also cause a problem, noting that fingerprint unlocking is still an alternative.

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