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Touch ID, Great Security Feature or Underlying Privacy Concerns?

View from Cairns BeachTouchID, Great Security Feature or Underlying Privacy Concerns?

As Apple announced the launch of their latest iPhone, it got me thinking about the fingerprint scanning feature that’s been included.  Fingerprint scanning technology isn’t new, many have tried before (IBM Thinkpads had fingerprint scanners installed as standard many years ago for example).

In the 90’s I remember trialling/piloting this technology within the corporate sector.  However commercial solutions were fraught with problems (Gummy Bears anybody?) or for one user, who’s terminal was found to be left logged in every lunchtime, was eventually identified to a combination of greasy fingerprint and sunlight striking the the scanner glass.

Of course, military grade biometric systems installed within my secure facilities, were less prone to these errors as the Crossover Error Ratio’s were fine tuned according to the limited audience.

I love the idea of not having to type a 4 digit number every time I want to use my phone.  A PIN that could be overlooked by any of my co-workers if I wasn’t careful…  There are other benefits, for example stopping your children using your phone to play games, dismissing your received text messages etc.

Don’t get me wrong, the fact the device recognises me as the authorised user and unlocks at the click of a button is a great idea, a time saver, and in many ways quite an innovative use of the improved technology.  It scans the sub dermal layer of your skin thus small nicks, dirt and minor cuts shouldn’t pose a problem, and of course this security feature is currently optional.

But… In today’s digital social media age, have we truly thought through the consequences of this type of security along with some of the many benefits?

Now before we go down this line, I understand that Apple have stated that fingerprint data will be local to the device itself and won’t be shared in the cloud… However it’s no stretch of the imagination that this data could be captured, retained and stored.  Where Apple innovates, you can guarantee others will follow, and those manufactures may comply with the recent controversial Prism revelation.

For example, from a law enforcement point of view, you could create a database of fingerprints of all users of the technology, which in turn could be cross referenced against unsolved crimes to shortlist a list of people of interest.  Not only that, you could potentially track their movements, favourite routes and places they frequent the most, and know with a good deal of confidence that person was at a location at a point in time if they authenticated with the fingerprint scanner.  (of course there are always exceptions).

Fingerprints are recorded in everything we touch, and if someone wanted them, they would need to dust the surface for prints, record them on acetate, scan them and upload them to a database, a lot of work and manpower, etc.  The beauty of this system is that you are volunteering the information, whilst your name may/may not be known, what is known is when that fingerprint is used to unlock and make a call!

Of course if you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.  If you are a person of interest, the phone could of course reveal when you are on the phone (as opposed to that number being in use), your GPS location and relay that to law enforcement agencies.  I can think of many uses of this tech.

We may be a few years away, but George Orwells 1984, might have been 40 years ahead of his time, but if we think about this and our usage of social media we may use all of some of the following :-

  • Facebook
  • Record our Likes
  • Record our Life, Thoughts, Photo’s, Personal Information
  • Twitter
    • Record our inner thoughts.
  • Foursquare
    • Record our location, places visited
  • YouTube
    • Video’s our most recent antics

    There are many more forms of popular social media, but my point is that, when Orwell wrote his book, people were in uproar and disgusted by the notion of a big brother state recording your every movement, and yet fast forward decades later and we actively volunteer this information to “Free Social Media Services” achieving what a government was unable to do directly, but with a paradigm shift, we happily volunteer too much personal information on the world-wide-web.

    But this is another formless piece of harmless tech right?

    That said, Apple’s marketing in my opinion is brilliant and although it’s not something I may need, it’s certainly something I want 🙂  So where do I sign up, join the shortest line to make sure I get one of these new iPhone 5s’s on day 1


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    1 Comment »

    1. The real problem comes if someone has their fingerprint or other biometric id abused/stolen or otherwise compromised.

      You can then no longer use your own biometrics, you become a non-person.


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