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Researchers find a way to use Face ID while wearing a coronavirus mask

Published Apr 9th, 2020 2:51PM EDT
Coronavirus Mask
Image: Anut21ng Photo/Shutterstock
  • To prevent the coronavirus from spreading, the CDC now recommends people put on a mask or face covering when going outside.
  • This has made it difficult, if not impossible, for users to unlock Face ID and access their iPhones.
  • Researchers have recently discovered an imperfect solution to this problem.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

When Apple abandoned Touch ID for Face ID with the introduction of the iPhone X, not everyone was completely on board. Touch ID, after all, was incredibly quick and reliable. As a result, the idea that Apple was going to replace it with facial recognition technology that was seemingly brought back from the future seemed like a risky move at best.

In reality, though, the rollout of Face ID was largely smooth. In fact, there’s a case to be made that Face ID has long been the most reliable facial recognition software out on the market. With that said, the recent coronavirus outbreak has made using Face ID a little bit tricky given that many people are now donning face masks when they go outside.

Recall, the CDC last week issued a new recommendation advising people to wear “cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”

All that said, is there any way to effectively use Face ID while safely covering your face with a mask? The answer is tricky. After all, the security built into Face ID is so robust that the software is designed to snuff out masks and any other type of face covering that would otherwise be used to fool the software. Indeed, even trying to register a new appearance with Face ID while wearing a mask will simply yield a “Face Obstructed” message. In short

So is there a way around this?

As it turns out, there is.

The Wall Street Journal reports that security researchers recently figured out a way to get Face ID to recognize a face partially wearing a mask. Apple notes that “Face ID is designed to work with your eyes, nose and mouth visible,” but apparently it’s sufficient if those features are partially visible.

[The] researcher folded a mask in half and covered just half of his mouth and nose during the process. Following that, he placed the mask on his face and was able to unlock the phone. Apple’s “alternate appearance,” which could be you with different glasses—or even a relative or spouse who you want to be able to access your phone—could also be used to enroll your face with this trick.

Video and instructions of the researchers showing off their COVID-19 Face ID strategy can be seen here. And while it may work — it’s not always effective — it’s not the best idea given that if you want to unlock your phone, you’ll have to put your hand on your face and partially remove your mask. And as I’m sure you all know by now, touching your face is ill-advised in the midst of this coronavirus pandemic.

All told, this is an imperfect solution, but if you want to try to set up an alternate appearance in Face ID, you can do so by going to Settings > Face ID & Passcode > Set Up an Alternate Appearance.

Yoni Heisler Contributor

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 15 years. A life long Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW. When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.