How Apple’s Face ID Facial Recognition System Works

In mid-September, Apple unveiled its new Face ID facial recognition system, which is due to debut with the iPhone X on Nov. 3. The system lets users unlock their phones just by glancing at them, but has also raised privacy questions and some anxieties over whether someone could force you to unlock your phone by pointing it at your face.

On Wednesday, Apple offered some in-depth explanations about the pains it's taking to protect your privacy in an update to its website.

Here's what you need to know about how Face ID works and the precautions Apple has taken for privacy and security.

How Does Face ID Work?

Face ID captures both a 3-D and 2-D image of your face using infrared light while you're looking straight at the camera. Apple then compares that information to images you took while setting up Face ID; that comparison is done using a "neural network" that lives on the iPhone X's new A11 chip.

Five unsuccessful attempts at Face ID will force you to enter a passcode -- which you'll need anyway just to set up facial recognition. That requires you to come up with a secure string of digits -- or, for extra security, a string of letters and numbers -- to protect your privacy.

Does It Work?

It didn't during Apple's Sept. 12 event -- at least initially, when senior vice president Craig Federighi tried and failed to demonstrate Face ID for the crowd before switching phones. Apple explained that handlers mistakenly set off Face ID attempts prior to Federighi's presentation, which caused the phone to revert to a passcode lock before he took the stage.

While Face ID won't face an acid test with ordinary users until November, Apple says it should work just fine.

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