Google Pixel 4 Facial Recognition Reportedly Works Even If User is Asleep or Dead


Even before the Pixel 4 series was unveiled, it has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Huge forehead, weird camera layout, no Snapdragon 855+ chipset, smaller than expected battery capacities, you name it. Then, Google received negative feedback for not being able to launch its latest Pixel phones in India and a few other countries due to problems with Motion Sense certification. Now, the company is under fire for not making the Face Unlock feature not secure enough for the user. Chris Fox, a technology reporter with the BBC, has confirmed that the Face Unlock feature on the Pixel 4 series unlocks the phone even when the user is sleeping or dead.

Face Unlock Feature On Pixel 4 Series Not Secure Enough

— Chris Fox (@thisisFoxx) October 15, 2019

Both Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL use a unique technology that Google calls Project Soli. It is a mini radar chip that can identify a face in 3D, finger movements, hand gestures, and even body movements. It is technically better than Apple’s Face ID mechanism and LG G8 ThinQ’s ToF sensor, but Google’s implementation of the Soli chip inside the Pixel 4 and the Pixel 4 XL is lacking.

According to Chris Fox, the Pixel 4’s Face Unlock feature, which uses the Soli chip, unlocks the phone even when the user’s eyes are closed, the user is asleep, and even when the user is dead. Ideally, a smartphone shouldn’t unlock when its registered user has closed their eyes or when they are dead. Chris even demonstrated in a short video how the phone unlocks even when the user’s eyes are closed.

Google Pixel 4 XL Face Unlock Not Secure Enough

According to Chris, he has received communication from Google’s Pixel team that it is how exactly the Face Unlock will work when consumers receive the device in their hands. There is no option to stop the phone from unlocking when the user’s eyes are closed. However, the search giant said in its statement to the BBC that it will continue improving the Face Unlock feature on Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL in the future, which gives us hopes that the missing option will be released with a software update. However, it is laughable that a huge tech brand like Google missed out on such a basic aspect of device security.

How Is Pixel 4’s Face Unlock Feature Different From Other Smartphones?

Google Pixel 4 XL Motion Sense (Project Soli) Components
Components used in Google Pixel 4 and Google Pixel XL’s Motion Sense (Project Soli) mechanism.

As I mentioned earlier, the Pixel 4 XL series uses Project Soli chip uses radar-like technology to create a miniature bubble or hemisphere in which it can identify a user’s movement in 3D. Unlike Apple’s Face ID mechanism, which projects infrared dots and reads them, the Soli chip emits electromagnetic waves which then travel and reflects back (in some portion) towards the radar antenna. Those reflected waves are then studied for time delay, energy, and frequency shift to calculate an object’s distance, material, orientation, size, shape, and velocity within the active field.

Apple iPhone X FaceID
Apple’s Face ID Mechanism On iPhone

Thanks to such an advanced and complex mechanism, the Soli chip can detect finger movements and hand gestures. It can even identify when a user is bending, standing, sitting, reaching for the device, leaning, or turning away from the device. It can even identify if there are multiple persons near the device. Gestures like dialing using fingers, sliding, and swiping can be identified as well. Plus, it can work in 360 degrees of orientation, consumes very low power, can pass through various materials, and does not capture or store any visual image (which means it is secure).