by James A. Martin

iPhone App Protects Private Pics with Face-Lock Feature

May 02, 20122 mins

FaceVault brings facial recognition and pattern-based unlock features to iOS. Unfortunately, the app only secures photos on your device, not data, and that's really only valuable if you carry lots of potentially compromising photos.

Picture me disappointed.

I recently read about a new iPhone/iPod touch app called FaceVault, which brings facial recognition and pattern-based unlock features to iOS. The app is said to be similar to the Face Unlock feature in Google’s Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS.

So I head over to iTunes to buy the $1 FaceVault app (current version 1.1), and right away I’m hit with multiple caveats from the app developer:

* Facial recognition technology is less secure than pattern-based security.

* Someone who looks similar to me could unlock the app.

* I need an active Internet connection to perform the facial recognition.

Okay, I can live with these limitations, although the second one is a bit spooky.

So I continue reading the app’s iTunes description, which says the app can organize your photos into unlimited albums, take private photos and import/export photos from or to the Camera Roll. 

I buy the app and go through the basic setup process and take my own picture to use for facial recognition. Then I realize the software doesn’t secure anything other than the photos you take using the app or iPhone pics that you import into it.

Does it secure your email? Nope. Does it secure your Web browser? Nope. It just secures your selected photos. The app’s iTunes description doesn’t clearly spell this out, and that’s disappointing.

By the way, if you really want to secure photos, you still must manually delete them from your iPhone’s albums or Camera Roll after importing them into FaceVault. The app doesn’t do that for you.

In all fairness, Apple doesn’t allow developer access to the iOS lock screen, which is why FaceVault’s functionality is limited. And the facial recognition worked well in most of my tests, with my glasses on and off. I even gave FaceVault my best serial-killer look to try and fool it, as evidenced in the screen shot below. But the app still recognized me. (Sigh.)

FaceVault iPhone facial recognition app

Only once, when I took my photo at an odd angle, did it have trouble and the backup pattern recognition kicked in.

FaceVault does its highly specific job well. But unless you’re a politician up for re-election who carries around photos of yourself naked on a leopard skin rug, do you truly need this app?