Five Months Later, Google Adds Eye Detection to Pixel 4 Face Unlock


Google launched the Pixel 4 and 4 XL about five months ago with big changes to Android biometrics. Gone were the tried-and-true fingerprint sensors, replaced by an array of infrared face unlock sensors similar to the iPhone. Shortly after release, buyers started to notice something unusual — the Pixel 4 would unlock even if your eyes were closed. That’s a bit of a security issue, but Google promised a fix. Now, five months later, that fix is finally out

Face unlock is tough to get right on smartphones. Apple set the standard with Face ID, which uses infrared 3D mapping technology to make sure what it’s seeing is actually a face rather than a photo of one. After Apple went all-in with Face ID, numerous Android manufacturers began emphasizing face unlock, which was already available in Android. The problem, however, was that those devices were simply using the front-facing camera to identify faces. This 2D facial recognition is far less secure than a 3D unlock. 

Google added support in Android 10 for 3D face unlock, showing off the new features with the Pixel 4 and 4 XL. These phones have a pair of infrared cameras, an IR dot projector, and an IR flood illuminator. So, you can glance at the phone, and it unlocks just as fast as the iPhone. Unfortunately, Google didn’t include the option to detect the user’s eyes before unlocking with Face Match. That could theoretically allow someone to unlock your phone while you’re sleeping by merely pointing it at you. With the iPhone, Face ID doesn’t trigger until you actually look at the phone. 

Google promised it would rectify this issue, and it has. The eye-detection update took a bit longer to materialize than expected, but it’s here. The latest monthly Android update included the usual cadre of security patches, some Bluetooth optimizations, and the “eyes open” toggle for Face Match. 

The eyes open requirement is not enabled by default, but you can turn it on in the Face Match settings. With that turned on, the phone will remain locked if pointed at a registered face with no eyes visible. To attempt another unlock, you need to either swipe or wake the phone up again. Face Match does seem slightly slower with eye verification on, so that’s probably why Google doesn’t enable it by default.

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