Facial recognition vs. fingerprint identification: is one better than the other? Security teams today are shifting to biometrics, prompting an assessment of whether fingerprinting remains viable in a digital context or whether selfies now offer a better option.
Here we’ll cover what you need to know to make an informed assessment. First, we’ll look at these two technologies individually and examine their respective pros and cons. Then we’ll compare facial recognition vs. fingerprint accuracy and reliability to help you evaluate how these two biometrics solutions fit your current and future security needs.
Facial Recognition vs. Fingerprint Recognition: What Are They?
Let’s start by looking at fingerprint recognition and facial recognition separately. We will highlight the pros and cons of each method, providing a basis for comparison.
What Is Fingerprint Recognition?
Fingerprint recognition is a method of biometric authentication that confirms an individual’s identity by using an image of their fingertips. Fingerprinting methods of identification rely on the fact that each person’s fingertips are marked by unique patterns known as friction ridges. No two people have the same fingerprint patterns, allowing fingerprints to be used as an identification method. If a person’s fingerprint is on file, a fingerprint recognition check can be run by software to confirm their identity.
Several methods of fingerprint recognition are in everyday use:
- Optical scanners use a digital image of a fingertip
- Capacitive scanners (Complementary Metal-oxide-semiconductor or CMOS scanners) use electrical patterns on a person’s skin to extract fingerprint images
- Ultrasonic fingertip scanners use sound waves to penetrate the outer layer of the skin and create images
- Thermal scanners use heat differences between fingertip ridges and surrounding valleys to create images
A typical fingerprint recognition application uses a smartphone camera to take an optical image. Standalone scanners fixed to a wall or door are used for security checks in buildings.
Fingerprint Recognition Pros and Cons
Fingerprints offer several advantages to security teams:
- Fingerprints vary from one individual to another, serving as a unique identifier
- A person’s fingerprints don’t change significantly over time
- Fingerprints can be taken and analyzed to a high degree of accuracy
- Fingerprinting is easy to apply to smartphones for remote verification
- Fingerprint recognition technology is inexpensive
On the other hand, fingerprinting has some drawbacks:
- Criminals can copy fingerprints using means such as photographs of fingertips or 3D molds of fingertips
- Fingerprinting requires physical contact with a scanner, which can spread germs
To address fingerprint impersonation attempts, smartphone fingerprint recognition scanners have shifted from optical scanners, which can be fooled by photographs of fingerprints, to capacitive scanners, which can differentiate 2D from 3D images. An enterprising criminal or spy can still create a 3D mold, but this takes more work and is impractical to do at scale.
What Is Facial Recognition?
Facial recognition authenticates an individual’s identity by comparing a live image of their face with a photo of their face on file. A facial recognition software system analyzes the live image and checks it against the stored image to verify a match.
Several methods of facial recognition are used:
- An algorithm analyzes spatial relationships between facial landmarks, such as the distance between a person’s eyes
- Capturing and analyzing 3D information about a person’s face using 3D sensors or combinations of 2D camera images taken at slightly different angles
- Face ID, a facial recognition system developed by Apple, analyzes an image taken on a smartphone or tablet camera created by illuminating the subject’s face in infrared light
- Enhancing low-resolution images of individuals photographed at a distance for comparison with higher-resolution photos
- Analyzing thermal images of faces, which factor out low-temperature accessories such as makeup, glasses, and hats
Facial recognition is widely used as a security check for smartphone access. It also has been used as a social media account authentication method. Other applications include robot vision and healthcare identity confirmation before surgery.
Facial Recognition Pros and Cons
Facial recognition has several points in its favor:
- It’s easy for smartphone users
- It can be used as a method of identity proofing for remote online authentication
- It’s inexpensive
- It can be applied without contact
- It doesn’t spread germs through contact
- It can be used to identify faces in crowds
On the other hand, facial recognition has some disadvantages:
- Facial recognition software works better at frontal and near-frontal angles but loses accuracy as the camera moves toward a profile shot
- Changes in facial expression or style changes, such as beards and glasses, can confuse facial recognition systems.
- Lighting conditions can affect facial recognition results
- Photos can be used for facial recognition without the user’s consent, creating privacy concerns
- Criminals can attempt to bypass facial recognition systems using means such as photos of faces, 3D models, or deepfake videos
- Multiple accidental triggering of facial recognition authentication can lock a smartphone user out of their device
Facial recognition developers are continually upgrading technology to address some of these issues. Current facial recognition systems use multiple camera angles and can distinguish 2D photo impersonations from 3D live photos. Subjects can be recognized even when wearing accessories, makeup, or facial hair. Users can adjust accessibility settings on smartphones to avoid accidental triggering of facial recognition checks.
Facial Recognition vs. Fingerprint Accuracy
Fingerprint recognition can confirm individual identity more accurately than facial recognition systems. However, this may change as facial recognition systems become increasingly integrated with iris recognition, another biometric authentication method with high accuracy.
Iris recognition detects patterns in an individual’s eyes that are as unique as fingerprints and can be captured from a distance. Iris recognition can be built into facial recognition systems, joining the accuracy of fingerprints to the convenience and hygiene of contactless authentication. However, iris recognition still has some limitations, such as requiring special cameras and taking a long time to scan, so fingerprint recognition remains the most accurate biometric authentication method.
Face ID vs. Touch ID: Which Is Most Reliable?
Touch ID is currently more reliable than Face ID for some of the reasons which have been touched upon:
- Fingerprints are less subject to change than facial appearance
- Fingerprint recognition doesn’t depend on a specific camera angle
- Fingerprint patterns are more unique than facial patterns
However, future developments such as iris recognition integration may improve the reliability of Face ID and other facial recognition systems. In addition, Face ID currently enjoys advantages such as ease of use, contactless data capture, and hygiene. Both types of technology retain a role in biometric authentication.
Prepare for the Future of Face ID and Touch ID Biometrics with Incode
The constantly changing state of biometrics technology makes it likely that fingerprint and facial recognition will both remain essential security tools in the near future. The global fingerprint sensor market is on track to achieve an annual compound growth rate of 14.5% between 2020 and 2027, while the global facial recognition market is positioned to grow at a comparable rate of 15.4% between 2021 and 2028. To keep up with biometrics trends and technology changes on the horizon, you need a security technology platform that stays up-to-date.
The Incode Omni platform is constantly adapting to the latest security technology. Powered by cutting-edge artificial intelligence, Omni features fingerprint and facial recognition as part of a comprehensive authentication tool that makes it quick and easy for your customers to swiftly and securely confirm their identities. Contact us today to request a demo and see how we can help you provide a frictionless security experience to your customers.