The fact that I might be stricken by a heart attack at any time scares me. With my luck, the person who finds me collapsed on the sidewalk will be the only person I know who doesn’t own a mobile phone. He will reach for my iPhone 5S and find himself unable to call for help because it’s locked and requires my thumbprint in order to function—he doesn’t know this, I die. That’s one problem with the fingerprint lock, as unlikely as it may be. The other problem is privacy.
Apple’s biometric tech
John Caspar, Hamburg commissioner for data protection and freedom of information believes that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) may have overstepped common sense in introducing biometric technology in lieu of convenience. Biometric data is permanent, and could provide hackers with access to data that outside of a bottle of acid, can’t be changed.
Biometrics for the purpose of identification comes in may forms, including but not limited to fingerprints, retina scans, facial features, and DNA. While DNA scans are not yet practical, the other means can be used and are used in surveillance, laptops, smartphones, and passports.
Caspar told Der Spiegel, “Biometric features you can not delete. [It is] lifelong. Fingerprints should not therefore provide for everyday authentication method, especially if they are stored in a file.”
While Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) maintains that it won’t be storing users’ fingerprints that will unlock the iPhone 5S on central servers, that doesn’t mean that the local storage of this information on the device doesn’t come with its own dangers. Caspar worries that hackers will be able to access this information, though encrypted, through the use of malicious apps that users voluntarily install on their smartphones.
“The current user is not in a position to control what his applications do with the information he puts in them,” Caspar iterated in a recent interview.
Fingerprint scanning may be a useful tool for businesses, but as Caspar told the publication, biometric data is a permanent feature of a person, and storing such data is fraught with risk. “Furthermore, [it is] the principle of data minimization. If it doesn’t have to be there, remove the biometric data, no matter how convenient it might be.”
Clearly Caspar is paid for this view, and may be a touch paranoid, but his beliefs shouldn’t be immediately dismissed as fear mongering.
While Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) may be the first smartphone manufacturer to include a fingerprint scan, they may not be alone for long. In a recent image leak of the HTC One Max, the phone appears to have a fingerprint scanner on the back of the handset.