On the new Pixel 4, Google opted to replace the traditional fingerprint sensor used on its previous handsets for an iPhone-like face unlock system featuring a sophisticated infrared 3D dot projector. However, unlike the iPhone, the Pixel 4's face unlock works even if a person’s eyes are closed, which is a potential security issue Google says it plans to patch sometime in the next few months.
By allowing the Pixel 4's face unlock to work even when someone’s eyes are closed, the fear is that a bad actor could gain access to the phone by holding it up to your face while you were sleeping (or dead). This is why for Apple’s FaceID on iPhones includes an optional toggle for “Require Attention for Face ID,” which adds an extra level of security that forces the person to actually look at the device before gaining entry.
At Google’s Pixel 4 launch event last week, it was unclear whether an attention-check feature for the Pixel’s face unlock would make it on the phone, with some reports claiming the feature had already been included, while others said the option was not available on their device.
So after reaching out to Google for more information, a Google representative provided Gizmodo with an official statement on the matter, saying:
“We’ve been working on an option for users to require their eyes to be open to unlock the phone, which will be delivered in a software update in the coming months. In the meantime, if any Pixel 4 users are concerned that someone may take their phone and try to unlock it while their eyes are closed, they can activate a security feature that requires a pin, pattern or password for the next unlock. Pixel 4 face unlock meets the security requirements as a strong biometric, and can be used for payments and app authentication, including banking apps. It is resilient against invalid unlock attempts via other means, like with masks.”
Currently, there’s no exact timetable for when this update will arrive, though considering that it seems some review units came with an attention check feature enabled, I wouldn’t be surprised if Google was able to push an update out to all Pixel 4 devices before the end of the year.
In the meantime, if you want to continue using face unlock but still want to protect your phone while you sleep, you can enable Android’s Lockdown feature by opening the phone’s settings menu, going to Display > Advanced > Lock Screen Display and turning on the toggle for “Show lockdown option.”
Once it’s turned on, you’ll be able to lock down your phone by holding the power button for a couple of seconds and hitting the option that pops up, which will require you (or someone else) to enter your PIN or password the next time someone tries to unlock the phone.