How Safe is the iPhone X Face Mapping Feature Really?

(Ad) The iPhone X introduced a new feature, Face ID, as a new way to secure the smartphone. It uses a mix of visible light and infrared and 30,000 data points to uniquely identify your face. However, a raft of news stories has led to concerns about the face mapping feature. It is supposed to update over time so that it recognizes you as you age or change. But how safe is the iPhone X face mapping feature really?

The Extra Layer of Tech to Protect Your Device

Unlike standard facial recognition, the use of IR in addition to visible light means it works in lower light conditions. By comparing your face against recent images taking both in visible light and infrared, it can supposedly still recognize you as you wear sunglasses, makeup or contacts.

By relying partially on infrared images of your face, this should prevent someone wearing a mask or holding up a photograph of you to use facial recognition to unlock your phone. The technology is supposed to be smart enough to recognize you and not allow someone who looks like you to unlock your phone.

iPhoneGlance - iPhone X

The Technical Failures

In passcode training, you’re training the phone to recognize your face; if 2 people have their picture taken accidentally as the one face for ID, the phone may recognize both of them as the same person. Information security programs like the one at Norwich University teach you the little things that create security holes that hackers could exploit, such as this one. A solution for the average user is to make sure no one else is in the picture when you’re “face training”.

The facial recognition software will obviously mistake identical twins for each other. The software has also been found to confuse preadolescent siblings for each other because their features are not fully developed. Courses offered by Norwich University Online delve further into the technicalities behind such technologies.

Privacy Concerns

Apple has been sharing your face from the Face ID with apps. This creates a potential privacy concern for users. For example, apps that track your facial expression could judge your mental state and report on it. Or the facial recognition information is used to track your interest and emotional reaction to ads, invaluable information for marketers.

The Potential for Hacking Face ID

The high level of detail plus infrared info for the iPhone X 3D facial recognition system is intended to prevent hacks like when SR Labs used a plaster mold of someone’s face to beat the Hello facial recognition system by Microsoft. The sheer difficulty of creating the 3D mold of the subject’s face and light reflective properties of someone’s skin makes it much more difficult than copying a fingerprint. Bkav says they achieved it with a composite 3D mask and makeup, but that hasn’t been independently verified.


The iPhone X’s face mapping feature is causing security concerns for a number of reasons. However, the iPhone X’s facial recognition system is far more secure than previous facial identification systems. The bigger concern for the average user is how your facial features and expressions will be used, regardless of stated privacy policies.