The forthcoming iPhone X’s Face ID facial recognition system will store a user’s biometric template in a Secure Enclave, and will never share that data with third-party apps, or even Apple itself.
That’s one of the key takeaways from Apple’s response to a list of ten questions publicly posed by Senator Al Franken, the head Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law. Further clarifying the system’s operation in response to Franken’s privacy concerns, Apple noted that the images captured during each user authentication process are immediately discarded, further helping to ensure that sensitive user data cannot be compromised.
Apple also addressed concerns raised by Franken regarding Face ID’s operation on non-white users, asserting that the machine learning system was trained on more than a billion images reflecting “a representative group of people accounting for gender, age, ethnicity and other factors.”
Much of this has already been disclosed by Apple, but it clearly bears repeating in response to a letter from a government representative who has in recent years made it his business to ensure that citizens’ privacy protections are keeping up with rapidly evolving technologies. And Senator Franken expressed gratitude in his acknowledgement of Apple’s response, writing, “I appreciate Apple’s willingness to engage with my office on these issues, and I’m glad to see the steps that the company has taken to address consumer privacy and security concerns.”
Senator Franken also said he would take Apple up on an offer to receive a more detailed briefing on Face ID, which may entitle him to further details on the system’s operation that Apple wishes to keep out of the reach of its competitors.