Apple Wants Your Fingerprint

Unlocking your iPhone with a fingerprint would be awesomely convenient. But is this going too far?

Oh yeah! Take my fingerprint, please!

Apple just picked up AuthenTec for $356 million, which could result in a cool benefit for iPhone and iPad users.

Here’s what AuthenTec will bring to the iParty, according to SEC filings: “The Restricted Information may be used solely for the purpose of developing a 2D fingerprint sensor for Apple that is suitable for use in an Apple product.”

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I’m hoping that I will soon be able to unlock my iPhone just by touching it. Plugging in letters is a pain, and I envy Android users who make simple finger patterns to unlock their phones. A mere fingerprint, though, is even better.

If you want your iPhone to get Outlook email from work (and really, who doesn’t?), the tradeoff is that your iPhone auto-locks after every five minutes of non-use. Thankfully, I can still access Siri when the iPhone is locked: Settings->General->Passcode Lock->Siri->On.

There’s just one problem: A fingerprint, like any biometric, is about as personal as it gets. Should I be concerned about privacy?

Apple already knows my credit card number via iTunes, although I can always cancel my card. Apple knows where I go, although I can always turn off location tracking. The one thing I can’t turn off is my fingerprint. My colleague, Bill Snyder, has already raised concerns that your smartphone is a spy for the government.

Then again, Snyder isn’t terribly concerned about fingerprints.

“I would assume the data is stored locally,” he says. “If that’s the case, I don’t think there is a lot to worry about. What’s more, at this point biometric identification is used so infrequently, I don’t see a threat even if the data is stored in the cloud. It’s not as if you access your bank account via fingerprint.”

If Snyder isn’t worried, that’s good enough for me. I’m willing to give up my fingerprint to Apple in return for a little convenience.

But I’ll know I’m in trouble when my iPhone suddenly snaps my picture, and Siri orders me to turn to the side.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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