Apple: Al Franken has 10 questions about Face ID

From a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook from the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law:

1. Apple has stated that all faceprint data will be stored locally on an individual’s device as opposed to being sent to the cloud.
a. Is it currently possible – either remotely or through physical access to the device – for either Apple or a third party to extract and obtain usable faceprint data from the iPhone X?
b. Is there any foreseeable reason why Apple would decide to begin storing such data remotely?
2. Apple has stated that it used more than one billion images in developing the Face ID algorithm. Where did these one billion face images come from?
3. What steps did Apple take to ensure its system was trained on a diverse set of faces, in terms of race, gender, and age? How is Apple protecting against racial, gender, or age bias in Face ID?
4. In the unveiling of the iPhone X, Apple made numerous assurances about the accuracy and sophistication of Face ID. Please describe again all the steps that Apple has taken to ensure that Face ID can distinguish an individual’s face from a photograph or mask, for example.
5. Apple has stated that is has no plans to allow any third party applications access to the Face ID system or its faceprint data. Can Apple assure its users that it will never share faceprint data, along with the tools or other information necessary to extract the data, with any commercial third party?
6. Can Apple confirm that it currently has no plans to use faceprmt data for any purpose other than the operation of Face ID?
7. Should Apple eventually determine that there would be reason to either begin storing faceprint data remotely or use the data for a purpose other than the operation of Face ID, what steps will it take to ensure users are meaningfully informed and in control of their data?
8. In order for Face ID to function and unlock the device, is the facial recognition system “always on,” meaning does Face ID perpetually search for a face to recognize? If so:
a. Will Apple retain, even if only locally, the raw photos of faces that are used to unlock (or attempt to unlock) the device?
b. Will Apple retain, even if only locally, the faceprints of individuals other than the owner of the device?
9. What safeguards has Apple implemented to prevent the unlocking of the iPhone X when an individual other than the owner of the device holds it up to the owner’s face?
10. How will Apple respond to law enforcement requests to access Apple’s faceprint data or the Face ID system itself?

Franken asked Cook to respond by October 13, 2017.

My take: Al Franken knows a good news hook when he sees one. Some of his questions were answered in the keynote. Some were not. My favorites: 8a and 8b.

See also: Apple: Face ID (demo) fail — updated with Apple’s explanation


  1. David Emery said:
    Actually a pretty good set of questions.

    But shouldn’t a similar set of questions apply to other phones using biometric identification?

    September 14, 2017
  2. Robert Harris said:
    9 is stupid the iPhone can be opened now forcefully placing a finger on it. What’s the difference. What responsibility does Apple have to answer 1 US senator anyway. I would if or the letter. It does not appear to be a question from his committee
    10 I think we all know what the answer is to 10 . There is no backdoor. Except the NSA seems to be great at unmasking phone conversations of anyone it wants to so have at it.

    September 14, 2017
  3. Richard Wanderman said:
    Personally, I’d rather these jerks in Congress put their attention on Equifax. That’s where the real problem lies.

    September 14, 2017
  4. Fred Stein said:
    I’m disappointed by Franken’s tone, even thought I like his positions on other issues. His questions sound like allegations and they’re off the mark.

    Franken needs to focus on the real threats to our security and privacy, as well as other issues like the gutting of consumer protection at the national level. He left Saturday Night Live a long time ago. Silly snipes don’t cut it.

    September 14, 2017
    • David Emery said:
      “questions sound like allegations” – but that’s how most Congressional hearings operate.

      September 14, 2017
  5. Gianfranco Pedron said:
    If its any comfort, nefarious characters wishing to unlock your iPhone X will spare your face should they decide to use physical coercion.

    Apple 1 – bad guys 0

    September 14, 2017
  6. Jonathan Mackenzie said:
    Number 10 is silly. It’s like asking, “How will you respond if law enforcement requests entry to your home?” It will always depend on the specifics of the request.

    September 14, 2017
  7. William Kortum said:
    Franken wasn’t just a writer for Saturday Night Live. He was one of their very best. Catch the early “stunt baby” bit he co-wrote with Tom Davis in which Bill Murray played a TV director. (Or the slightly switched “stunt dog” bit a few weeks later). The guy was on top of the heap as an entertainer and looks to also do well in government. I don’t see any reason for Apple to worry about his questions. It should be like going through a DWI checkpoint when you haven’t been drinking.

    September 15, 2017

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