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Google to update Pixel 4 face unlock with eye detection ‘in the coming months`


One of the headline features for the Google Pixel 4 is that it adds a new, secure face unlock feature in lieu of a fingerprint sensor. Only it turns out that “secure” is a relative term, as the phone will unlock even if your eyes are closed. Google has given us a statement promising that it will issue a software update that will fix that problem up, but unfortunately, the timeline for it is longer than users might like. Google says that it has “been working on an option for users to require their eyes to be open to unlock the phone, which will be delivered in a software update in the coming months.”

The Pixel 4’s face unlock feature is very similar to the iPhone’s system, utilizing infrared projectors and cameras to create and read an accurate depth map of your face. That makes it more secure than other RGB camera-based solutions — it can’t be tricked with a photo or a video on a flat-screen.

However, Apple’s Face ID system does require attention — in the form of your eyes being open and looking at the screen. Users can disable that feature if they like.

Google had previously said that “We don’t have anything specific to announce regarding future features or timing, but like most of our products, this feature is designed to get better over time with future software updates.” It looks like it’s now willing to commit to delivering them.

There have been leaks of a “Require eyes to be open” toggle on the Pixel 4’s face unlock settings, but the toggle isn’t there on the phones that Google showed at its event, nor will it be present on shipping phones this week.

Google emphasizes in its statement that despite the fact that it works with your eyes closed, it believes that “Pixel 4 face unlock meets the security requirements as a strong biometric, and can be used for payments and app authentication, including banking apps. It is resilient against invalid unlock attempts via other means, like with masks.”

Pixel 4 is able to tell if you’re looking at it in other contexts. It has a “Screen attention” feature that keeps the screen from turning off if you are looking at it. Now Google needs to make it work for unlocking the phone, as well.

Unfortunately for Google, this isn’t the first piece of drama for its face unlock feature. Ahead of its release, Google was forced to admit that contractors it had hired to gather data to improve face unlock on a wide diversity of faces had targeted homeless people. Google suspended the program to investigate.

For people who buy the Pixel 4, Google is again pointing out that “if any Pixel 4 users are concerned that someone may take their phone and try to unlock it while their eyes are closed, they can activate a security feature that requires a pin, pattern or password for the next unlock.” That feature is the “lockdown” option that appears when you long-press the power button.

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