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New Android plan: Gurn at your phone to unlock it

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Google has filed a patent for a new method for controlling computers and other devices by pulling funny faces.

In the future, Chocolate Factory fans might be able to unlock their gizmos by sticking out their tongue, rather than by having to remember passwords, according to a new patent.

Android users can currently use a system called Face Unlock to access their phones, but the new tech purports to be more reliable because it can't be fooled by photographs. Google introduced a system called "liveness" last year which requires users to flutter their eyelashes to prove they are alive and not just a photo, but researchers managed to fool it using image editing software to create a photo that appears to show the subject blinking. All a hacker would need to do is show the original photograph followed by the edited one.

The new patent includes aspects of this research, but goes further by introducing a range of gestures, including smiling with the mouth open, frowning and wrinkling the forehead or nose. It also recognises when a person does a "tongue protrusion".

The system would be more effective, because it could ask for any of the gestures, raising the prospect that anyone looking to send a text on their mobe would have to spend goodness-knows how long pulling silly faces in public before being allowed to send it.

Like the current Liveness tech, Google's new facial recognition software would take two photographs of an individual and then compare them using details on "facial landmarks" from each snap. These images could then be analysed to make sure that the person in front of the camera had pulled the correct expression.

Other "anti-spoofing" systems introduced in the patent could send light beams towards the subject, which are then detected when they reflect off the cornea. The exact colour of the light could be different each time, ensuring that access is not granted to someone waving a photo around.

However, facial recognition software is not an entirely reliable way of securing your telephone or computer just yet.

"The problem with biometrics in the past has been that you have always been able to find a way to work round the requests to deliver what's needed," Prof Alan Woodward, chief technology officer at the consultancy Charteris, said in an interview.

"It sounds like Google is thinking about how try and counter this with randomness and movement.

"But there's a long way between writing a patent about an idea and delivering it as a reliable security measure. I would expect people will still use traditional passwords for some time to come."

A Google spokeperson said that some ideas "later mature into real products or services, some don't".

"Prospective product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from our patent applications," he added.

It wasn't clear how the system might work on one well-known Android platform, the wearable computer Google Glass. ®

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