Google’s made a puzzling choice with Pixel 4’s face unlock feature

Well this is disappointing… it turns out the new way to unlock your Pixel 4 phone – face unlock – really isn’t that secure. In fact, if you’re asleep and someone points your phone at your face – voila!

The documentation on the Google Support page does in fact state this and follows up by telling users to keep their phone secure:

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Your phone can also be unlocked by someone else if it’s held up to your face, even if your eyes are closed. Keep your phone in a safe place, like your front pocket or handbag. To prepare for unsafe situations, learn how to turn on lockdown.

I like face unlock, and I’ve used it on my last few phones – but those phones as well as the review device in my pocket today (which isn’t a Pixel phone) don’t unlock without checking that the user’s eyes are open. This is a common feature of face unlock systems developed by other Android OEMs and on Apple’s iPhones, and it’s a disappointing omission.

Lockdown, Google’s suggested solution for this problem, disables all biometric authentication systems on the phone meaning whomever’s trying to access your device needs your screen unlock pattern/pin/pass to get into the device.

Personally I’m not happy with this implementation. Nor, it seems, are many of the users who are testing out ways to get into Pixel phones that aren’t intended, with plenty of examples starting to appear on social media.

In a statement to the BBC, Google said that face unlock will continue to be improved over time. Hopefully this means making it secure enough to not require it to be locked away when you’re asleep.

This isn’t the first issue with Pixel 4’s face unlock to rear its head – earlier today we wrote of how Pixel 4’s face unlock doesn’t replace fingerprint authentication in most available apps.

Last modified on 18 October 2019 9:45 am

Phil Tann: @prymal81 Phil is an Android enthusiast who spends most of his time reading up on U.S. Android news so he can get the low down on what could possibly hit Australian shores. Coming from a background in IT & T sales, he’s in the perfect position to give an educated view on hardware and software.

View Comments (9)

  • I saw a YouTube review of the pixel 4xl and allegedly womens make up can cause it to not unlock ,
    iE: woman registers face unlock with no make up , then when she's made up , it don't work .
    Apparently it also works the same scenario reversed
    This was a review unit , so perhaps this won't be the case with consumer ready models..

  • I have a number of apps that use fingerprint scan and I use those all the time. How is facial unlock going to work with them?

  • Hey Phil, hope you’re doing well mate. Hopefully Google can sort that out. But I don’t think it’s going to matter for me because I always reboot my phone before I go to bed. I always set the encryption on my phone to require a strong password after reboot. Not so good for people less security-conscious than me though.

    • Yeah , all these alleged security features are only a deterrent ,
      if someone is determined to get Around them they will.
      Same as locks on front doors of houses , they only keep honest people out .
      and face unlock can easily be circumvented by identical twins as shown on the iphone when it first released .