Samsung revealed during its Unpacked event in March that the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus phones can be unlocked with the irises in your eyes.
As we’d expect, the marketing behind iris scanning claims it’s more secure than using your fingerprints. Yet, it was surprising to find that the Galaxy S8’s iris scanner might actually be better to the FBI’s fingerprinting technology.
I spoke with Mark Clifton, CEO of the company behind the Galaxy S8’s iris recognition called Princeton Identity, who helped put the Galaxy S8’s iris recognition into perspective.
Clifton said the FBI “uses 13 points of identification per fingerprint, so with all 10 fingers you might have 130 unique identifiers.” Meanwhile, the Galaxy S8’s iris scanner can register up to 200 identifying features from a single iris. And keep in mind that the Galaxy S8 scans both eyes, which means it actually registers 400 identifying features from your eyes.
Those identifying features include the tiny ridges on your iris, which the Galaxy S8’s iris-scanning camera can pick up using a “near-infrared” filter to pronounce those ridges so they can be accurately registered.
It’s arguably unfair to compare two completely different technologies, but it’s still impressive that the identifying technology on a soon-to-be commercially available smartphone is (apparently) more effective than what the FBI uses for authenticating fingerprints. At the same time, the FBI surely uses other technology that no one knows about.
I contacted the FBI to inquire about its fingerprint and other identifying practices, but have yet to hear back.
It’s unclear how many identifying points the Galaxy S8’s — or any other smartphone’s — fingerprint scanner can register. Even if they’re as accurate as the FBI’s fingerprinting technology, Clifton’s claim makes it sound like fingerprints are nowhere near as secure as using your eyeballs.
The quality of the iris recognition feature also bodes well for people that don’t like using fingerprint scanners on smartphones. Samsung had to move the fingerprint scanner that’s traditionally on the bottom of border of its smartphones to the back of the Galaxy S8 because its borders are now so narrow.