Google Pixel 4's Face Unlock Feature Works With Eyes Closed, Sparking Security Concerns

Google has ignited security concerns over the facial authentication system in its new Pixel 4 smartphone by admitting that it will unlock the device even when the user's eyes are shut.

pixel 4 google
Google unveiled the Pixel 4 this week to mostly positive reviews, many of which praised the phone for its super-fast new face unlock system, which replaces the fingerprint sensor and works much the same as Apple's Face ID on iPhones, except for one key security feature.

The BBC has discovered that the Pixel 4 can be unlocked even with the user's face even if they're sleeping (or pretending to be asleep). That contrasts with Apple's Face ID system, which engages by default an "Attention Aware" feature that requires the user's eyes to be open for the iPhone to be unlocked. Attention Aware can be disabled for convenience, but the Pixel 4 lacks an equivalent security feature entirely.


To its credit though, Google isn't hiding this fact. A Google support page reads: "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," Google recommends holding the power button for a couple of seconds and tapping Lockdown, which turns off notifications and face recognition unlocking.

In early leaks of the Pixel 4, screenshots revealed a "require eyes to be open" setting for face unlock, so it looks as if Google tried to implement a similar feature to Apple's Attention Aware, but couldn't get it working in time for the device's launch.


Speaking before the launch, Pixel product manager Sherry Lin said: "There are actually only two face [authorisation] solutions that meet the bar for being super-secure. So, you know, for payments, that level - it's ours and Apple's."

Cyber-security experts disagree.

"If someone can unlock your phone while you're asleep, it's a big security problem," security blogger Graham Cluley told the BBC. "Someone unauthorized - a child or partner? - could unlock the phone without your permission by putting it in front of your face while you're asleep."

In a statement given to the BBC, Google said it would "continue to improve Face Unlock over time."

Top Rated Comments

roguedaemon Avatar
22 months ago
When FaceID was released it immediately put Apple 2-3 years ahead of everyone else. Leagues ahead.
It’s why I keep choosing Apple. Whether anyone likes it or not they are *the* authority on smart phones, they singlehandedly created that market.
Score: 50 Votes (Like | Disagree)
newyorksole Avatar
22 months ago
It’s interesting that Samsung and Google can copy Apple soooo closely, but pull up a little short.

Like they can ALMOST fully mimic Face ID / Touch ID, but they lack something key that only Apple has.


When FaceID was released it immediately put Apple 2-3 years ahead of everyone else. Leagues ahead.
It’s why I keep choosing Apple. Whether anyone likes it or not they are *the* authority on smart phones, they singlehandedly created that market.
That’s a fact. The competitors haven’t done anything compelling to make me switch from iOS / macOS / iPadOS etc. I don’t know what it would take haha, but I’ve seen nothing yet.
Score: 26 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Kabeyun Avatar
22 months ago
Haters, face it (no pun intended). FaceID represents innovation. Just not flash (another pun not indended). That has always been apples strength.

Always imitated, never duplicated.
Score: 23 Votes (Like | Disagree)
akbarali.ch Avatar
22 months ago
I thought it would be just 1yr for everyone else to replicate the tech inside iPhoneX. But there are not much phones having face ID even after 2 yrs. Then I thought maybe not many are interested in that tech. But now I know, it must be gruesomely difficult and expensive. I mean, someone like Google trying and failing. Can't imagine plight of other small manufacturers.
Score: 21 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Abazigal Avatar
22 months ago

Most Android phone users really do not care about privacy, they are fine with Google spying on them and sharing their information, so to them, security is just a gimmick anyway.
I think it's more that they lack the resources to refine said feature to the extent that Apple does. Apple does one thing (ie: iPhone X lost Touch ID and gained Face ID), but does it well, and because of this, they went out of their way to really do Face ID properly and ensure it wasn't inferior, security-wise.

Face ID, like Touch ID, is the epitome of Apple doing what it does best - take an emerging product category with a frustrating user experience and then proceed to deliver a polished product made possible by its control over both the hardware and software.

Apple then uses these refinements to justify their high price tags, and the profits that Apple reaps from selling these premium handsets go back towards further improving on and iterating these features. It doesn't take a genius to see how this results in a virtuous upward spiral for Apple.

Conversely, Android phones sport so many different forms of unlocking, and all of them seem quite half-baked, because there just isn't any incentive for any of them to do these features properly. The ROI just isn't there.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
sunapple Avatar
22 months ago

In all fairness, it isn't really a regression compared to fingerprint scanners which can also be used with a sleeping user.

What I really like on my Samsung phone is 2-level authentication. It comes with a feature called secure folder that can contain apps and data that is separately encrypted and can have different access security. I use this for my banking apps, and have a password on it instead of the fingerprint/PIN combo for my phone itself.

I don't think the pixel has this though. It's part of Samsung Knox.
Great work-around if you have a phone that can be compromised by a $1 screen protector.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

apple watch 6s 202009

Bloomberg: Apple Watch Series 7 to Feature Thinner Screen Bezels, Faster Processor, and Updated Ultra Wideband Tech

Monday June 14, 2021 3:41 am PDT by
This year's Apple Watch Series 7 is likely to have thinner display bezels and use a new lamination technique that brings the display closer to the front cover, according to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman. From the report: The Cupertino, California-based tech giant is planning to refresh the line this year -- with a model likely dubbed the Apple Watch Series 7 -- by adding a faster processor,...
studio buds family

Beats Studio Buds Debuting Today With Active Noise Cancellation, Stemless Design, and More for $150

Monday June 14, 2021 8:00 am PDT by
We've seen a lot of teasers about the Beats Studio Buds over the past month since they first showed up in Apple's beta software updates, and today they're finally official. The Beats Studio Buds are available to order today in red, white, and black ahead of a June 24 ship date, and they're priced at $149.99. The Studio Buds are the first Beats-branded earbuds to truly compete with AirPods...
m1 imac back

Some M1 iMac Models Shipping With Crooked Mountings

Monday June 14, 2021 12:50 pm PDT by
Some M1 iMacs appear to have a manufacturing defect that causes the display to be mounted on the stand in a way that's not perfectly aligned, leading to a crooked display. YouTuber iPhonedo over the weekend published a review of the M1 iMac, and he found that his machine appeared to be tilted on one side, a mounting disparity that was visibly noticeable and proved with a ruler. Another...
ios 15 home screen icons

iOS 15 Lets You Drag and Drop Images and Text Across Apps

Saturday June 12, 2021 3:17 pm PDT by
Apple this week previewed iOS 15, which is available now in beta for developers ahead of a public release later this year. One smaller but useful new feature added is the ability to drag and drop images, text, files, and more across apps on iPhone. MacStories editor-in-chief Federico Viticci demonstrated the new feature in a tweet: Using cross-app drag and drop on iPhone in iOS 15. Finally 🎉 #WW ...
ipad iphone duo ios 12

Apple Releases iOS and iPadOS 12.5.4 Security Fix for Older iPhones and iPads

Monday June 14, 2021 10:15 am PDT by
Apple today released new iOS and iPadOS 12.5.4 updates, with the new software aimed at older devices that are unable to run the iOS 14 update that's available on modern devices. The iOS and iPadOS 12.5.4 updates can be downloaded for free and the software is available on all eligible devices over-the-air in the Settings app. To access the new software, go to Settings > General > Software...
apple new iphone case colors

Apple Releases New Sunflower, Cloud Blue and Electric Orange iPhone 12 Cases

Monday June 14, 2021 11:12 am PDT by
Apple today released silicone iPhone cases for the iPhone 12, 12 Pro, 12 Pro Max, and 12 mini in a series of new colors that include sunflower, cloud blue, and electric orange. Sunflower is a bright yellow shade, cloud blue is a soft, light blue, and electric orange is a bright orange that's darker than the kumquat color and more orange than pink citrus. The new cases are priced starting...
files app ipados 15

iPadOS 15: Files App Gains NTFS Support, Progress Indicator, and More

Tuesday June 15, 2021 3:41 am PDT by
Apple in iPadOS 15 has added the ability to access NTFS-formatted media from within the Files app. The additional support for the Windows-related format, first discovered by YouTuber Steven Fjordstrøm, is read-only, so like on macOS you can't modify files stored on NTFS devices, but you can at least copy any data on them for working on elsewhere on your iPad. The Files app has also gotten a...
apple virtual game controller ios 15

Apple Makes New On-Screen Game Controller Available to Developers on iOS 15 and iPadOS 15

Saturday June 12, 2021 12:36 pm PDT by
During the Platforms State of the Union at WWDC this week, Apple unveiled a new API for iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 that enables developers to implement an on-screen virtual game controller in their iPhone and iPad games with just a few lines of code. While many iPhone and iPad games already offer on-screen controls, Apple's new virtual game controller is available to all developers, easy to add,...
apple store palo alto

Apple Stores to Drop Mask Requirement for Vaccinated Customers This Week

Sunday June 13, 2021 11:31 am PDT by
Apple will no longer require vaccinated customers to wear masks inside their retail stores in the U.S, a major shift in policy compared to last month, according to Bloomberg. The new change, expected to go into effect on Tuesday, will no longer require customers who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to wear masks inside Apple Stores in the United States. Bloomberg notes that Apple...
nomad airtag wallet card 2

Nomad's Latest Accessory Makes It Easier to Put an AirTag in Your Wallet

Monday June 14, 2021 12:00 pm PDT by
Nomad, known for its range of accessories designed for Apple devices, today announced the Card for AirTag, which is designed to make it easier for an AirTag to fit inside a wallet for tracking purposes. With Card for AirTag, an AirTag fits inside the middle of a card-shaped holder that's then meant to fit inside of a wallet. According to Nomad, the design offers a smooth, uniform shape that...