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Technology News South Africa

Can face mapping still identify you if your features change?

One of the most trustworthy ways to verify your identity online is face ID – also known as face biometrics. This is because your distinctive facial features are the best proof of what makes you, you. When combined with ‘liveness’ technology, a method that confirms that a person is real and using their face to sign in at that moment, this technology offers strong protection against fraudsters and cyber criminals. But what if our appearance alters with age, or we have a nose job or lip injections? Could modifications to our face make our own face ID tools deny us access?
Murray Collyer, COO of iiDENTIFii
Murray Collyer, COO of iiDENTIFii

The good news is that the natural process of ageing doesn’t have a significant effect on face identification – to a point. In 2017, Michigan State University investigated the extent that facial ageing affects the performance of facial recognition systems.

Researchers found that 99% of facial recognition images could still be recognised up to six years later. However, the face does change naturally over time, and the accuracy began to drop when images of a person were taken more than six years apart.

This, of course, varies from person to person.

“Our technology asks users to take a selfie from a specific angle. This confirms that a real, live person is trying to log into the account and that a fraudster is not using a photo of your face to try log in," says Murray Collyer, COO of iiDENTIFii.

"We confirm the person’s identity by cross-referencing it with existing official identity records, such as a person’s government-issued ID. This means that, even if your face changes as you age, you will still be successfully identified if your official ID documents are reasonably up to date.”

As the research above explains, ‘reasonable’ is usually within the past six years.

Cosmetic enhancement

However, when it comes to plastic surgery, there are some procedures that might confuse face ID tools.

Procedures that change the volume of tissue in the face, such as cheek implants, lip fillers or buccal fat reduction, may change your appearance enough for you to not be recognisable to your face ID on record.

Tissue-lifting procedures such as eyelid surgery or a brow lift may also affect facial recognition.

As many algorithms process face recognition by mapping the central face, any procedures done to that area are most likely to stymy the system.

Cosmetic surgery that impacts the side view of the face, such as botox, neck lifts or lower facelifts are less likely to affect facial recognition systems.

“It’s also important to remember that, when a person has plastic surgery to improve their appearance, they may look different to the human eye but not to a facial recognition tool," Collyer adds.

"This is because the ratios for facial recognition are not the same ratios that the human eye aspires to when seeking out cosmetic procedures.”

Deep encryption

Facial recognition usually transforms customer facial data into a biometric hash, an encrypted set of ones and zeros stored securely in a biometric vault.

This encrypted data, also referred to as a "reference template”, serves as the benchmark for verifying the returning user's face against the initial onboarding image.

“This process only occurs once, at the time of your first enrolment. After that our process, if required, will adapt as you age. The ‘Genesis Selfie’ can be done as often as you like - for example, on Day 1, your selfie is compared to an 8-year-old ID image, while on Day 3, it is compared to a 3-day old selfie. Your selfie can be updated each time you do it to be the most accurate. In that way, our system ages with you.”

A face cannot be mapped accurately when the person is moving. However, even if a person takes a selfie in a dimly lit room, or on a poor-quality digital camera it can still provide enough information to pass or fail the face scan.

“We use a unique sequence of lights each time the user interacts with the system to ensure they are present at the time of onboarding, and not a prerecorded video or animation,” comments Collyer.

“Not all face mapping technology is equal. iiDENTIFii stands out for its NIST-accredited face match algorithms, ensuring the highest standards of accuracy and reliability."

Put simply, this means we have scientifically stress-tested our solution to ensure it can identify the facial features of a user under various conditions

There is also the question of ethnicity. Historically, face recognition tools have come under fire for misidentifying various people, particularly those of non-white ethnicities. However, great strides have been made in this regard.

“Our algorithm has been built on over 50 million African face match operations,” says Collyer, “meaning that we are well-equipped to effectively identify a wide range of faces on the African continent.”

While certain physical changes may have an impact on your face mapping tools, there is nothing to worry about if the rest of your identity documents are up to date.

However, if you know that you look dramatically different to your ID, then it’s best to update all your identifying information so that your bank, your phone and the government knows that it’s still you.

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