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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Apple's Fingerprint Scanner: Will an iPhone Thief Now Cut Off My Finger?

Posted By on Tue, Sep 10, 2013 at 3:17 PM


According to the Wall Street Journal, that's a legitimate question. And it has an answer, too:

No, it won't work. Apple's new sensor, which has antecedents in many older desktop computers, as well as the 2011 Motorola Atrix handset, reportedly checks for signs of life when a finger brushes over its screens. That means a dismembered finger won't work, WSJ reporter Danny Yardon assures.

Well, great. But perhaps that won't relieve the uneasiness of knowing that a Cupertino tech giant could potentially store fingerprint data in bulk.

Apple assures it isn't doing that. Its fingerprint information gets encrypted locally, stored in an A7 chip on the iPhone 5s, and never backed up on iCloud, according to press materials. That means public agencies won't be able to subpoena fingerprints from the company.

So really the purpose of Apple's 5S fingerprint scanner is to stave off intruders and ramp up the company's security cachet. Evidently that was critical enough to warrant purchasing the fingerprint firm Authentech last summer for an estimated $356 million, according to the Washington Post. It was also worth the trouble of conceiving a unique fingerprint scanner patent.

Marketing Land & Search Engine Land editor Danny Sullivan is fairly certain Apple is the only company that can get away with adding such amenities. If a major, ad-driven search engine like Google tried the same tricks, privacy experts would protest, he noted in a tweet this morning.

And it should please San Francisco DA George Gascon, who waged a spirited campaign to enshrine various anti-theft features in the next generation of iPhones -- most notably the kill-switch that disables stolen devices. Apple unveiled that feature at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June. We have yet to hear what Gascon thinks of the new touch sensors.

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About The Author

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan was a staff writer at SF Weekly from 2013 to 2015. In previous lives she was a music editor, IP hack, and tutor of Cal athletes.


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