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Google moves towards gurning technology for handset security

POSTED BY Windsor Holden
Who needs passwords when you can gurn?

For those unfamiliar with the term, “gurning” is the act of performing a distorted facial expression, such as those adopted by the late English comedian Les Dawson in the persona of Cosmo Smallpiece (for those unfamiliar with Les Dawson and/or Cosmo Smallpiece: an overview is beyond the scope of this blog and you’ll just have to find out for yourselves).

Anyway, to drag this blog back from seventies’ comedy in the direction of its core topic: on Tuesday, Google published a patent for a technology which would enable handset or tablet owners to unlock their devices by, well, gurning. To quote the patent:

“The method includes identifying at least one facial landmark in the first image and at least one corresponding facial landmark in the second image, and extracting a first sub-image from the first image, where the first sub-image includes a representation of the at least one facial landmark… further comprising: prompting the user to perform a predetermined facial gesture; determining whether the detected facial gesture matches the predetermined facial gesture; if the detected facial gesture does not match the predetermined facial gesture, denying authentication to the user with respect to accessing one or more functionalities controlled by the computing device; and if the detected facial gesture matches the predetermined facial gesture, granting authentication to the user with respect to accessing one or more functionalities controlled by the computing device.”

Like I said, gurning.

Which comes as rather splendid news to those of us who, due to a combination of advancing years and having better things to do, have failed to keep track of the 316 separate passwords, user names and security questions required for everyday life,  which include but are by no means limited to banking, Facebook, LinkedIn, PayPal, Google Mail, Moonpig, Argos, Amazon, your mother’s Amazon account, your son’s Moshi Monster account, your step-daughter’s Moshi Monster account and the ESPNscrum Fantasy Rugby Tournament.

While a spokesperson for Google told the BBC that it was “unable to comment on when the suggested technology might be implemented”, one would hope the sooner the better: not only would it begin to alleviate the password overload issues outlined above, but – given that faces are fortuitously unique – it could potentially be far more secure than any number of mechanisms involving the name of your first teacher.

The filing also notes that the technology would compare frames from a video stream: and if at least one frame “does not include the representation of the human face”, then authentication would be denied.

As mobile devices increasingly become repositories of our personal data – our social contacts, our photographic libraries, our financial details – then it is imperative that security mechanisms are put in place to protect that data. Passwords and CAPCHA codes can take us so far: but then people forget the passwords (typically resulting in a time-consuming process whereby a new password is emailed to one or your accounts; if you’re lucky to may even have remembered the password to that account) or else cannot read the text laid out before them in a font apparently designed by Salvador Dali in one of his more whimsical moods. With the result that while your data is secure, it’s also secure from you.

Hence the need for technology based on patent 8457367, or as I like to call it, Gurning Technology. The sooner it hits the handset, the better, I say.

Which just leaves one question. When the Apple equivalent is introduced at some point in the future, will it be the iGurn?