The Coronavirus epidemic that has resulted in 636 deaths and infected over 32,000 people in 33 Countries has had another unexpected consequence. The facials masks that people are donning to avoid getting the infection, hinder facial recognition in tech devices.
Mobile devices, mobile accounts, office doors, security checks etc. are rendered ineffective due to the failure to recognize the covered faces.
The Chinese government has made it mandatory to wear these masks in some provinces. Guangdong in the south and Jiangxi in the center, plus the eastern city of Nanjing, Ma’anshan city in Anhui province, and Xinyang city in Henan, all require residents to wear masks. Many others, running into millions, are wearing masks to avoid the risk of catching the contagion.
People are getting frustrated with the devices that require facial recognition and the social media platform Weibo is brimming with complaints from people. The demand for face masks has driven the prices up, and there is a shortage of masks reported.
“Under the current circumstances, for the past two days, I’ve been basically wearing a mask all the time except while sleeping. In times like this, the iPhone’s Face ID doesn’t really work that well,” a user wrote, reports abacusnews. She hoped that Apple would bring back fingerprint unlock.
China’s public utilities and services are all tech-heavy, and most of them use this feature to give access to ordinary citizens. With face masks becoming a necessary accessory, routine tasks have become quite cumbersome. China’s airports, hotels, train stations, public restrooms, all have facial recognition feature to operate certain functions. The government requires anyone buying a phone sim to undergo a facial scan to prevent cybercrime and provide better protection to the citizenry.
Some educational institutions also use facial recognition to keep track of attendance.
“Just came in through the community gate. I was standing under the facial recognition [camera], but it didn’t recognize me,” one user said. “Around two minutes later, I realized I was wearing a mask.”
Another user wrote that fingerprint tech was much better. It is scary to pull down the mask every time one wants to use a device or facility.
In Southeast Asian countries, the use of face masks is common, and many people do not venture out without one. It is partly because of the high pollution in some of these places and partly the hygiene culture. Keeping this in mind, Huawei earlier had tried to develop facial recognition tech along with the face mask.
“We tested the mask-wearing scenario on the Mate 20 Pro,” wrote Huawei vice president Bruce Lee on Weibo. “But there are too few feature points for the eyes and the head, so it’s impossible to ensure security. We gave up on facial unlock for mask/scarf-wearing. This is also why we still keep fingerprint recognition while supporting 3D facial recognition on our phones.”
The demand for masks has also led to a shortage in China. The Chinese online shopping site Taobao said that in just two days in January, it sold more than 80 million masks, says a BBC report.
China produces 20 million masks each day, but the production has gone down to half due to the holidays and lower labor force.
People are advised to change the masks frequently. Experts are not sure how effective they are in keeping the infection at bay.
Ordinary surgical type masks are not believed to be too effective; it is the higher end masks that are found to keep 95 percent of harmful airborne contagions out. A mask known as the N95 respirator works the best. China at present is producing 600,000 of these a day, according to government figures.
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