In Apple’s shadow, Google is taking a new approach to facial recognition on Pixel phones

Oct 6 (Reuters) – Facial recognition returned to the latest Google Pixel phones on Thursday after a brief hiatus due to cost and performance issues, according to three former employees of the Alphabet Inc. ( GOOGL.O ) unit familiar with the the news. effort.

The functionality of the new Pixel 7 is not as good as Apple Inc’s Face ID unlocking mechanism, as it can struggle in low light and is more vulnerable to spoofing. In addition, Google said it was not secure enough to allow logins on apps or payments. Read more

The return comes after Google tightened its grip on launching products with facial recognition, partly because of questions about its performance on darker skin tones. The company has taken time to overhaul its approach to facial recognition training and testing since the previous Pixel, with the capability launched in 2019, one of the sources said.

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Google declined to comment on several specific questions about its history with face unlock. He said in general: “Thanks to advanced machine learning models for facial recognition, the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro have Face Unlock, but we do it a little differently. He added: “We achieve good facial accuracy with the front camera. »

Google’s push for facial unlocking for Android smartphones spans at least a decade, but came under increased pressure when Apple released Face ID in September 2017, the sources said.

Until then, Google had struggled to design a system that worked quickly and was impervious to spoofing, or using hyper-realistic images or costumes to trick someone else’s phone into unlocking, one of the sources said. Engineers toyed with requiring a smile or wink — which proves a person’s “aliveness” — to combat spoofing, but that was awkward and slow, the source said.

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

It performed well, even in dark conditions, with no more than a 1 in 50,000 chance of it unlocking a phone for an unauthorized face, according to Google.

But the equipment was expensive. And while Apple sells 240 million iPhones a year, Google has reached a few million, which prevents it from buying parts for Apple’s volume discounts.

Google discontinued uDepth in the Pixel 5 in 2020 due to costs, the sources said.

Face masking due to the pandemic gave Google a reason to exclude the feature from last year’s Pixel 6 and additional search time, two sources said.

Face unlock on newer phones relies on a typical front-facing camera. But unlike the previous system, it can’t securely unlock apps and payments, as Google says the chances of impersonation – such as waving a user’s photo – are over 20% above the 7% threshold required to be considered the most “safe” .

Low light and sunglasses can also cause problems, Google says, noting that fingerprint unlocking remains an option.

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Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Kenneth Li and Leslie Adler

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Paresh Dave

Thomson Reuters

A technology journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area who covers Google and the rest of Alphabet Inc., he joined Reuters in 2017 after four years at the Los Angeles Times focusing on the local technology industry.

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