back to article Not a good look, Google: Pixel 4 mobes can be face-unlocked even if you're asleep... or dead?

Pixel 4 owners can unlock their smartphones with their faces even if they have their eyes closed. That's not good. Google’s Face Unlock feature in the new smartphone uses machine-learning algorithms to recognize your face and grant access to the device's apps and data. The biometric system is designed to ensure that only you …

  1. Thoguht Silver badge

    People can die with their eyes open, so that's really not relevant. What is relevant is that accurate facial recognition (especially on a platform as limited as a phone) is simply a pipe dream.

    1. Hyper72

      Well, I've disabled "attention detection" on my iPhone so it doesn't require me to stare directly at it. I was discussing this on some forum or other. Turns out a lot of people don't or can't trust their own family while they're sleeping so they really enjoy that feature. Completely unexpected for me and a sad thing to hear really.

      Generally this kind of infrared dot projection is actually extremely good and not at all "a pipe dream". It recognizes me with/without beard, hat and glasses only fails with sunglasses. It is also very very hard to cheat for other people, except twins.

      Though for people fearing getting arrested by the FBI/CIA/KGB/NSA a long passphrase is the only way to go but that kind of people should be going through burner phones like nobody's business anyway.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Turns out a lot of people don't or can't trust their own family while they're sleeping so they really enjoy that feature. Completely unexpected for me and a sad thing to hear really.

        Depends on what you mean by trust? For example my brother doesn't trust his children with access to his phone. Mostly because if they can get access to it - they can go to his account settings and disable the timelock that stops their iPads working after 6pm...

        But yes it is sad, and I know some people who've gone through messy divorces who would be well advised to trust to good passwords. Given that your biometrics should be your username and not your password.

    2. DougS Silver badge

      I just tried with my 11 max and it won't unlock if I have only one eye open. I don't have the ability to point one pupil at the phone and one elsewhere so I can't test that, but I'm guessing it probably wouldn't unlock unless it has the 'attention' of both eyes. Aiming both pupils in the same direction might be a problem with a dead person, even after you open their eyes. I've never tried (and don't want to) so I don't know how difficult it might be to alter their gaze.

      Though I can't say I'm too concerned whether someone is able to unlock my phone once I'm dead. I don't have anything on there anywhere near valuable enough to kill me for, and anything embarrassing on there can't embarrass me when I'm dead!

      1. Muscleguy Silver badge

        You can close the eyelids of a recent deceased. I expect you could rearrange an eyeball and have it stay there (assuming the head is lying perfectly level wrt the eyeballs since gravity will still be in operation).

        BTW your eyes stay open when you are anaesthetic as well. Anaesthetists tape your eyelids down during operations since they can open spontaneously if just closed. When operating on mice (science) if it was going to take a while I would have a dropper filled with saline for moistening their always open eyeballs.

        1. Andre Carneiro

          Not open, merely “not completely closed”.

          An anaesthetised person’s eyes are certainly not open like an awake person’s are.

          The eyes are taped shut to stop that last little slit of cornea that’s exposed to the air to dry out.

    3. big_D Silver badge

      On the other hand, fingerprint readers have allegedly been used on dead people to unlock phones in the past, likewise if you are asleep, someone could press the reader against your finger. If you are a deep sleeper, you wouldn't notice.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      People *DO* die with their eyes open, the natural state of a relaxed eyelid is open, it requires muscle control to close them.

  2. Robert Grant


    potentially when you're asleep or dead.

    And sadly Face Unlock is the the only biometric system the Pixel 4 uses to handle security. Past builds had a fingerprint sensor, and that's missing from the new handset.

    Pretty sure your fingerprint can be used if you're asleep.

    1. Nate Amsden

      Re: Erm

      How about if your dead /hands are cold /no blood flowing? Biometrics in phones is one feature I don't mind, at least I'm not forced to use it(which I don't, also don't do much sensitive stuff like banking or shopping on my phone with anything other than temporary credit card numbers(which are generated on my computer)).

      1. Benson's Cycle

        Re: Erm

        I've been told if you are dead your capillaries collapse and the fingerprint sensor stops working on your finger, but I have not tried the experiment.

        I like fingerprint recognition. Why are people so determined that they should be able to track my face? Have the Stasi infiltrated the phone industry?

        (It was said that the reason that East German cameras were comparatively good was because the Stasi demanded good lenses for facial recognition. Orwo film was also not at all bad.)

        1. Thoguht Silver badge

          Re: Erm

          The problem with fingerprint readers letting bad actors access your phone is not so much if you're dead but if they simply cut off your finger when they rob you. +1 for Orwochrom, though.

          1. Benson's Cycle

            Re: Erm

            Yes, but "cutting my own finger off" would have signalled the little joke whereas "being dead" didn't.

            Don't thank me, I won't be here all day.

        2. Muscleguy Silver badge

          Re: Erm

          And because Leica and I think an arm of Zeiss were located in the east. Germany had long been very good at lens making before the Wall came down. Both companies still exported of course. A good earner.

          Leica scopes have been a fixture in all the labs I’ve worked in from before the Wall as well as after. Plenty of old Leica scopes as well.

          1. Benson's Cycle

            Re: Erm

            Leitz and Zeiss having plant in the East wouldn't have helped them if nobody important wanted the product. The East had one gee-whiz two stroke designer. Walther Kaaden. Their motorbikes, as used by the military, with the 250 engine, were OK. The Trabant, to be driven by ordinary people, not so much.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Erm

          Not great for people with Raynaud Syndrome (about 1 in 20) imagine being on a mountain, lost and cold and you can't unlock your phone without finding a hot bath first.

    2. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Erm

      If you try to use fingerprint scanning on a sleeping person, you may wake them up. This is a missed opportunity to thwart unauthorized access.


      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

        Re: Erm

        "Samsung: Anyone's thumbprint can unlock Galaxy S10 phone"

        No danger waking up the owner or need to cut off fingers; if the phone is a Galaxy S10...

      2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

        Re: Erm

        If you try to use fingerprint scanning on a sleeping person, you may wake them up. This is a missed opportunity to thwart unauthorized access.


        So surely you just drug them?

    3. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Erm

      Most good fingerprint sensors won't work on a lifted fingerprint, so you have to pick up someone's hand and physically place the finger on the sensor. Since people move a bit in sleep and the sensor requires sustained contact, you'd also have to hold their finger there for a second or two. In addition, many sensors aren't great and require multiple scans, which means possibly having to lift and reapply the finger. Some people may sleep soundly enough that you can pick up their hand, separate one finger to avoid interference, and hold it to something else, but I doubt it's all that many people. The majority who would wake up would now know the exact person trying to access their device, have very clear proof, and be in convenient punching range (either from gaining lucidity admirably quickly or simply a strong enough startle reflex). Judging from how well my cat can wake me up, it won't work on me.

      1. 's water music Silver badge

        Re: Erm

        Judging from how well my cat can wake me up, it won't work on me

        Shirley you have no way of knowing how long your cat has spent trying to magic marker a Hitler moustache on your lip before she slips and accidentally wakes you?

        1. Mephistro Silver badge

          Re: Erm

          "...magic marker a Hitler moustache on your lip..."

          As long a she isn't trying to paint a "Dirty Sanchez" on your lip...

    4. tim 13

      Re: Erm

      I prick my son's finger to do blood tests while he is asleep, he doesn't wake up. I also occasionally have to insert canulas, which hurts a lot. He only stirs even then.

  3. karlkarl Bronze badge

    People who are asleep and people who are dead still have faces. So not really a bug.

    A security risk yes... But consumers don't really have concern for that.

  4. RyokuMas Silver badge

    Small beans...

    "... theoretically someone else could access your handheld by pointing one of the cameras at your fizog..."

    Ah, but that's just one person, and they have to have access to your device. Given that Google already have your data from the moment you first set up the phone, that's over 100,000 people who "theoretically" have access to anything important on your handset: one more is pretty small beans in the grand scheme of things...

  5. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    If the face fits...

    Interestingly my Honor View 10 (cheapo Huawei) supports facial recognition and has a fingerprint scanner. The instructions make it very clear that fingerprints are so much safer and secure than facial recognition - even the manufacturer doesn't want you to use it!

  6. Winkypop Silver badge

    Your face, your ass

    What's the difference?

    - D Nukem

  7. JimmyPage Silver badge

    WTF ? FFS ?

    "Liveness detection" - i.e. checking the face being presented was blinking - was available SIX FUCKING YEARS AGO.

    How the holy fuck are people like this in business ?

    That's it really.

  8. DrBed

    So I'll have to buy iPhone 11...

    But wait... what if you are sleeping with open eyes (I know some people do)? Or if you're drunk and your eyes are weld barely half open, how do you call a cab? Or if you upgrade to Molly Millions (>Neuromancer)? I have to buy it and ask Siri about these issues.

  9. Mark 110

    I will report back

    I have ordered one

    Should get delivered next week. I will just turn the face unlock off if its a worry.

    Anyway I will report back seems a bit weird they would drop the ball given all the debate when apple went down this rabbit hole

  10. Alterhase

    How about a photo of my face....

    With facial recognition unlock, what is to prevent someone from using my photo to unlock my phone??

  11. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Celebrities are far more likely to get hacked with facial recognition...

    If anyone manages to steal a celeb's phone, a quick* trip to Madame Tussauds should unlock it.

    *Ok, once you've queued and paid to get in...

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019