Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Let’s embrace innovation

By Dan Riley

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(Courtesy of Apple)

Every time some new innovation or ungodly technological advance is announced, people speculate about its extreme implications. It can range from privacy concerns to full-on science fiction. An advance in the development of artificial intelligence will always be met with allusions to the Terminator movies or iRobot. Last week, Apple announced the iPhone X. Among its new features is facial recognition software replacing the current touch identification used to unlock iPhones. If your response to Apple’s announcement was to blink, then carry on with your life knowing that you are never going to drop $1,000 dollars on a phone, then this article is not for you. We all applaud your fiscal responsibility and general sensibility. However, if your response was to bust out an old copy of George Orwell’s “1984” and to start hyperventilating about the government and/or shadow organizations spying on you, read on.

On the Orwellian side, my thought is this: If an overbearing government or shadow organization has set out to violate your privacy and collect information on you, including but not limited to the contents of your phone and the contours of your face, they are going to get it. They already have it. Game over. Checkmate. We are all compromised. If those theoretical organizations set out to use that information against us, or if Apple abuses the trust we put in them by storing our information on their phones, I will be the first to pick up my pitchfork and we can all revolt together. But for now, relax. Cool technology is cool, and you may as well enjoy it.

The more measured concern about facial recognition is that of individual privacy. Can other people get access to my phone through a fault in the software? According to Apple, the odds of random stranger unlocking TouchID were one in 50,000, which became one in a million with FaceID. Further, CNET senior editor Dan Ackerman reflects, “There’s always a chance that someone could physically force you to unlock your device by grabbing your hand or holding the phone up to your face.” That chance is of course the same as someone forcing your finger onto the Touch ID. If that is a concern, you are probably better off using a four-digit passcode.

Minnesota Senator Al Franken published a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook outlining numerous concerns about the new technology. Among them is the concern that Apple will collect biometric data and sell it to third parties, or provide it to law enforcement without a warrant. As far as third parties are concerned, I would prefer that my bone structure would not be sold to companies seeking to market to me, but if some sunglass company advertises a product to me that would fit my face perfectly according to the iPhone X’s facial scan, that would actually be very cool. As for the Fourth Amendment concerns voiced by the Senator, I have faith in our court system to protect our constitutional rights. Further, the fact that Senator Franken is asking about the privacy concern demonstrates to me that the legislative branch of government is addressing the potential issues that widespread adoption of facial recognition technology creates in a proactive manner.

In summary, innovation is good. The iPhone X’s facial recognition software is the coolest thing that I am never going to buy. There are good people in the government who are going to advocate for our privacy rights. We are not heading toward the dystopia described by George Orwell in “1984,” but we are probably heading toward a world that makes greater use of facial recognition. Apple is not the first to adopt this technology, but they do have a talent for using and revitalizing other people’s ideas and bringing them to the mainstream. In the meantime, we all get to enjoy the next step in technological progress. I think we will be better off for it.

Dan Riley is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

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