Privacy Pros and Cons of the iPhone 5S Fingerprint Scanner

Scanner on iPhone 5S may make fingerprint locks more popular.

The iPhone 5S uses a Touch ID sensor that allows the user's fingerprint to become their password.

The iPhone 5S uses a Touch ID sensor that allows the user's fingerprint to become their password.

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Apple's new iPhone 5S can be unlocked using a fingerprint, which could spur a trend to improve biometric security but could also create new privacy problems for smartphone users.

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The iPhone 5S unveiled by Apple on Tuesday features the Touch ID scanner built into the home button of the new smartphone, which will allow users to create a login without setting up or remembering a password. The fingerprint scanner can also simplify purchases of apps, music, and videos using iTunes, the company explained in a video about the Touch ID, available here.

 

The iPhone 5S goes on sale on Sept. 20, so time will tell how convenient and effective the scanner is. To address privacy concerns Apple explained that the fingerprint will only be stored in the Secure Enclave in a chip on the iPhone, and will not be stored on a cloud server.

"The Secure Enclave where the fingerprint data is kept is not accessible by iCloud or by applications," said Teresa Brewer, spokesperson for Apple.

Keeping the fingerprint data off cloud servers would make it harder for hackers to access, but the use of fingerprints on smartphones raises numerous other privacy concerns, said Ashkan Soltani , an independent technology researcher and consultant.

Relying solely on the fingerprint scanner for unlocking could also make it easier for someone to compel users to unlock their phones, said Soltani, who previously worked as a technologist doing consumer privacy investigations at the Federal Trade Commission.

There is also the risk that a user's fingerprints could be duplicated to access a phone, said Brian Duggan, a technologist at the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute.

"Apple should educate users on biometrics, and users should educate themselves on the implications," Duggan said.

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Fingerprint scanners have been used before on devices including ThinkPads by Lenovo, but they have usually been used by corporate customers who wanted increased security, Soltani said. The iPhone 5S could make fingerprint scanners a much more popular device feature for everyday consumers, especially if Apple improves the technology, he said.

"Apple tends to innovate and push features that other companies mimic, since they have so much influence," Soltani said. "They often make tweaks and improve the usability."

If fingerprint technology does become a trend with smartphones and online shopping then that could create privacy concerns for Internet use, Soltani said.

"If they have widespread use then it could also become tough to use it anonymously, since you can't use pseudonyms online if you are linked with your fingerprint," Soltani said.

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