Biometrics: from the big screen to your mobile phone

The movie Minority Report premiered in 2002. In the movie, the character played by Tom Cruise walks into a shopping center and, based on biometric facial recognition, he is shown customized advertisements, tailored to his identity. Moviegoers at the time thought this was pure science fiction, but it seems the future was a lot closer than they imagined.

In 2017, Apple introduced its Face ID system, also based on biometric facial recognition, which allows the user to unblock his telephone, use certain Apply Pay services, or pay for purchases in iTunes or the Apple Store. This represents a huge step forward, not just in terms of biometric technology, but in the way it places this technology at the fingertips of millions of users around the world.

From the big screen to our mobile phones in only fifteen years! But were we as users ready for it? In a recent post, we discussed the fear that many people still have of making payments on a mobile device. If we still have a deep-seated fear of having our password or personal data stolen, imagine our even greater fear at the prospect of having our biometric data stolen, allowing anyone at all to impersonate us using our face, fingerprint, or voice.

But, as we have also stated from time to time, that fear is not as justified as it may seem. The first step is understanding why.

Biometrics has a reliability rate between 95% and 99%. Why not 100%? Although the technology is more precise than ever, it can still yield false positives or negatives.

The results obtained from biometric facial recognition are probabilistic, meaning that they provide a percentage of likelihood that the person being identified is the same as the one stored in the system.

In general, a limit or threshold is established for this probability. If the limit is set very high, meaning that we require a very high level of match in order for the identification to be considered valid, we can get a false negative, resulting in a legitimate user being rejected by the system. This would be a case of overly-strict algorithms.

On the other hand, if the system sets the limit very low, we can get a false positive, which is even more dangerous. In the first case, what we have is a mere annoyance for a legitimate user; in the second case, we have a very real risk of identity theft.

For this reason, among others, biometrica technologies are (still) used in combination with other identity verification systems, such as comparison of data with existing databases, geolocation, or SNA (Social Network Analysis). Nevertheless, research in these areas is now pointing more and more to a fully biometric future, in which data storage, security, and verification are 100% reliable, allowing the user to make use of his own identity of the Internet.

Do you want to find out what experts in the technology, legal, and financial industries have to say about biometrics and its role in the future of digital identity?

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