One of the myriad new features in Ice Cream Sandwich that got people really excited about Android 4.0 was Face Unlock, an alternative to sliding, PIN or pattern-based screen unlocks that uses a forward-facing camera to literally recognize the user’s face. Upon actual use, however, it’s clear that the technology isn’t quite as fleshed out as it could be: frequent errors necessitate a backup system for most users. Apparently some users in particular are having trouble: a Reddit user identifying himself as a black man said that he has consistent issues with Face Unlock not recognizing him. His problems are echoed by other users throughout the thread.

Let’s start off by getting this right out of the way: Google isn’t racist, or at the very least, problems with face detection don’t make them so. Differing skin tones, particularly for those of African, Indian, Middle Eastern and Latin American descent, present problems for cameras of all kinds. Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect peripheral has a lot of the same issues, as do other facial recognition systems. Unfortunately, detecting faces in areas of low contrast is still pretty difficult, even for modern camera sensors and software – it’s more of a physical limitation of light refraction than anything else. The original poster said that the issue persists in both dark and overly lighted areas.

Face Recognition is more of a toy than a security feature, at least at the moment. As far as biometrics are concerned, fingerprint reading is still a much more secure method of logging in and/or unlocking a device – ICS’s facial recognition can even be fooled by a well-printed photo. Here’s hoping that Google can improve the software in future versions, for everyone’s sake. Hey Apple, when you patent the tech that’s already in Android, maybe you can make it “just work”.

  • Anonymous

    Thge xbox connect was having the same problems when it first came out. So do like all facial recognition cameras. Funny how that works.

  • Bdds13

    connect? it’s kinect lol

  • Enflu3nza

    so uh, guess theres no point of hacking my Nexus S to make face unlock work then -____-

  • Kim

    I work for a well-established, trusted face recognition provider, Sensible Vision. Unlike some novelty face unlock systems, FastAccess for Windows was tested before launch in 2005 on a wide range of complexions and is currently used on nearly 6 million computers worldwide in home and enterprise environments. 

    Our mobile product, FastAccess Anywhere, will be available next month. Visit the web site for more information

    Thank you. 
    Kim Brown, Sensible Vision

    • Mike


  • Kni9ht

    not sure about dark-skin but your twin or photo sure can unlock the phone…

  • It is more common used with computers, almost notebooks! The recognition highly depend on lighting environment. That is why it won’t be easy-to-use feature. As for me I use Rohos Face Logon to unlock the Windows. Even computer some times is not accurate in face recognition.