Are Iris Scanning and Face ID Safe For Your Eyes?
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In 2016, Iris Scanning was included in the Galaxy Note 7. In 2017, the iPhone ten was the first in the Apple line up to include Face ID. Both technologies use our facial data to unlock our phones, and both companies have told us that their technologies are safe for our health.
But when I activated Iris Scanning on my Galaxy Note 8, I was greeted with this scary disclaimer about its use. So what’s going on? Let’s take a closer to look to see if Face ID and Iris Scanning are safe for our health.
How does Face ID work?
Well the answer, of course, is magic! Well not exactly magic.
Within that famous notch in the iPhone ten, there is the infrared dot projector and infrared flood illuminator.
We can’t see infrared with our eyes, but if you look with an infrared camera, you can see that there are thousands of dots projected onto your face. A built in infrared camera captures this image.
Samsung Iris Scanning also uses infrared technology. It uses an IR LED to illuminate your eye, and a built in IR camera to capture an image of the iris.
So when it comes to safety, the real question becomes is there any harm associated with projecting infrared light towards our face, and what is infrared light anyway?
On the electromagnetic spectrum, infrared light sits right next to visible light. Infrared has slightly lower energy than visible light. Infrared is all around us. Sunlight feels warm because infrared radiation is absorbed by our skin and converted into heat.
Even our own body heat is emitted as infrared radiation. Thermal imaging cameras help us see infrared light given off by our bodies.
And you already have things in your house that use infrared, like your TV remote.
Can infrared directed at your face cause harm?
To answer this question, I read this riveting 26 page document called the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection Guidelines on Limits of Exposure to Incoherent Visible and Infrared Radiation.
The first thing to say is that infrared radiation is classified as non-ionising radiation. What this means is that infrared cannot cause cancer. The main effect of infrared on the body is that it generates heat. There are only two parts of your body that are exposed to infrared when Face ID or Iris Scanning are on, and that’s your skin and your eyes.
Effects on the Skin
When infrared hits the skin, it is converted into heat. In extreme amounts, infrared can cause our skin to burn. But as you know from using Face ID, that you don’t feel any heat on your skin because the amount of infrared is very low. So damage to the skin isn’t really an issue.
Effects on the Eyes
Well we know that extreme amounts of infrared can damage the eyes. People who work in manufacturing steel or glass are working with very hot objects that emit a lot of infrared.
Normally when we look at something very bright, we tend to squint to help protect our eyes from damage. But because we can’t see infrared, our automatic squinting mechanism can’t really help us here. In situations of extreme infrared exposure, people can develop cataracts and even lose some vision.
At the front of the eye, there is the cornea, lens and iris. The lens and cornea should be transparent to let light through to the back of the eye. But high amounts of infrared can heat up the proteins in the lens, causing the lens to become cloudy. This is called a cataract.
Infrared can also effect the back of the eye, called the retina. The retina is responsible for detecting light and converting it into brain signals. High infrared exposure can damage this detection mechanism and cause vision loss.
Amount of exposure
It all comes down to the amount of exposure. In cases of extreme exposure, yes infrared can cause damage to the skin and the eyes. But the amount of infrared that we get exposed to in daily life like while cooking, or using our TV remote, doesn’t really cause us any harm.
Both Apple and Samsung have to put their products through a certification process, to make sure that they only emit very low amounts of infrared radiation.
What about long term effects of infrared?
On this point, the ICNIRP says “current knowledge suggests that there are no effects of chronic exposure to infrared radiation below the exposure limits provided” (ICNIRP Guidelines on Infrared, page 74).
I have seen articles on the internet from people who report discomfort after using Iris Scanning or Face ID. It is possible that some people are more sensitive to infrared than others. But it is also possible to get eye strain from other sources, such as using your phone on high brightness or using your phone for too long without a break.
If you are worried about the effects of infrared then the simple solution is to turn off Face ID or Iris Scanning and see if you notice a difference.
Technology and our health
There is a bigger picture to this issue. Technology is very quickly becoming part of our daily lives. Things like Bluetooth, WiFi, Face ID, Iris Scanning are everywhere!
So as consumers of these products, I think it is important for us to understand these technologies, and remain alert about potential health effects.
Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone. If you have a health question bugging you, let me know in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer it. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you in the next one!
Apple statement on Face ID: https://support.apple.com/en-au/HT208108
Samsung statement on Iris Scan: https://news.samsung.com/global/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-galaxy-note7s-iris-scanner
ICNIRP Guidelines on Infrared Radiation: https://www.icnirp.org/en/frequencies/infrared/index.html
The Face ID logo, Iris Scan logo, Apple logo and Samsung logo are copyright of their respective owners and have been used under Fair Use to illustrate the health effects of infrared technology used in the implementation of Face ID and Iris Scanning.
Video excerpts from:
Apple 12 September 2017 Event: https://www.apple.com/au/apple-events/
iFixit Video on how Face ID works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a19g5ihHq20
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Event via CNET: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k04u-ZQnz2U
P1BLUtube on use of Thermal Imaging: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gLdDJPQQKM
Certain illustrations adapted from https://www.svgrepo.com/
Music: Nekzlo - Speed (Vlog No Copyright Music) Music promoted by Vlog No Copyright Music. Video Link: https://youtu.be/Vup58eA0yXQ