Apple’s privacy signs do not spread to the thousands of app developers who will gain access to facial data in order to increase entertainment features for iPhone X customers, such as closing a three-dimensional mask to their face for a selfie or letting a video game style mirror the player’s real-world facial expressions.
Apple allows developers to take some facial data off the phone as long as they conform to seek customer permission and not sell the data to third parties, between other terms in a contract seen by News.
App creators who want to use the new camera on the iPhone X can take a rough map of a user’s face and a stream of more than 50 kinds of facial expressions. This information, which can be removed from the phone and stored on a developer’s private servers, can help monitor how often users blink, smile or even raise an eyebrow.
That alone storage raises questions about how effectively Apple can implement its privacy rules, according to privacy gatherings such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Democracy and Technology. Apple keeps that its enforcement tools which include pre-publication studies, audits of apps and the threat of kicking developers off its lucrative App Store – are effective.
The data accessible to developers cannot unlock a phone; that means relies on a mathematical description of the face rather than a visual map of it, according to documentation about the face unlock system that Apple issued to security researchers.
But the relevant ease with which developers can whisk away face data to unrelated servers leaves Apple sending conflicting messages: Face data is highly private when used for authentication, but it is sharable with the user’s permission when applied to build app features.
“The privacy copies around of the use of very mature facial recognition technology for unlocking the phone have been excessive,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy investigator with the American Civil Liberties Union. “The real privacy numbers have to do with the access by third-party developers.”