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Facial Recognition vs. Palm Vein Biometrics
5 Important Differences

Dec 23, 2019 by Beau Karlskin

Facial recognition and palm vein are two of the leading biometrics on the market today, but they are polar opposites in many ways.

How do they work?

  • Facial recognition technology works by mapping the unique geometry of a person's face, such as the distance from the chin to the forehead, distance between the eyes, length of the jawline, etc.
  • Palm vein technology works by using infrared light to map the unique vein pattern of a person's palm, measuring over 5 million data points in their vein structure.

With both biometrics, this information then gets converted into an encrypted code that becomes the person's unique biometric ID. When they scan their face or palm, their biometric code is checked against existing codes in the system, and if it matches up, they are identified.

But while the end result — identification — might be the same, the way these two biometrics achieve this is dramatically different. This has several important consequences.

These are the five key differences between facial recognition and palm vein that you should know about before choosing one for your business.

1. Privacy

The biggest difference between facial recognition and palm vein biometrics is in the area of privacy.

Facial recognition has received widespread criticism in the last few years due to the privacy concerns it creates.

Because your face is exposed everywhere you go, face recognition cameras can easily identify you from a distance, making it possible for you to be tracked in public and creating serious privacy risks.

Palm vein, on the other hand, is privacy-by-design. Because your palm vein pattern is concealed inside your hand, it requires a combination of infrared light and a close-up ultra-HD camera to capture it.

So, unlike with face recognition, it is impossible for your palm vein pattern to be captured from a distance. To be identified, you have to deliberately scan your palm over the palm vein scanner — it cannot be captured without your consent.

This is what makes palm vein a consent-based biometric, giving it clear advantages over facial recognition in terms of privacy.

2. Accuracy

Aside from privacy, accuracy is the second biggest difference between facial recognition and palm vein.

The accuracy of a biometric is measured by two factors: False Rejection Rate (FRR), and False Acceptance Rate (FAR). The lower the number, the more accurate the biometric is.

The FRR measures the chance an authorized user will be incorrectly denied access, whereas the FAR measures the chance an unauthorized user will be incorrectly allowed access.

Facial recognition has the highest FAR and FRR of any biometric on the market. On the contrary, palm vein has the lowest — making it 260 times more accurate in terms of FRR, and 130 thousand times more accurate in terms of FAR.

biometric-accuracy-comparison-2462x824

Additionally, facial recognition has an additional flaw: it's not equally accurate for all people. Face recognition algorithms have been proven to be less accurate on women and people of color.

Any identification technology should be equally accurate for all people, because the dangers of inaccurate identification are too high. Inaccurate identification makes it possible for you to be misidentified as someone else, which has potentially dire consequences (particularly when used by law enforcement).

It's also just plain inconvenient. Being misidentified and incorrectly denied access to something that's yours is extremely annoying, and it defeats one of the core benefits of biometrics in the first place: convenience.

So in terms of accuracy, facial recognition performs worse than virtually any other biometric, making palm vein the clear winner.

3. Security

Facial recognition's privacy risks and reduced accuracy also have a third consequence: reduced security.

The reduced accuracy of face recognition makes it more likely to misidentify users, potentially allowing access to unauthorized personnel and creating security risks.

But the biggest security risk of facial recognition is its vulnerability to spoofing. Since your face is exposed everywhere you go, it's much easier for hackers to forge a 3D image of your face to fool a facial recognition device.

With palm vein, since your vein pattern is concealed inside your hand, it can only be captured when you deliberately scan your palm. Otherwise, it's completely hidden, making it nearly impossible for a thief to forge or steal it.

These two features of palm vein — the increased accuracy and the fact that it's internal — make it generally a much more secure biometric than facial recognition.

4. Convenience

There is one key advantage that facial recognition has over all other biometrics: convenience.

Despite the security and privacy risks associated with it, the fact that face recognition technology can automatically identify a user from a distance makes it very convenient if the user consents to this.

For example, face recognition on modern smartphones (such as Apple's Face ID feature) allows users to unlock their phone just by looking at it. How convenient!

Additionally, the privacy risks of facial recognition don't apply to smartphones because the user's biometric data is stored directly on the device, rather than in a database, so it can't be used for surveillance purposes.

This makes facial recognition a seamless, convenient choice for unlocking smartphones. However, when used on public surveillance systems instead of personal devices, the privacy risks of facial recognition greatly outweigh the convenience benefits.

Palm vein, on the other hand, doesn't have the long-range automatic identification capabilities that facial recognition has, since it requires a close-up (but contactless) scan of the palm to identify the user. So while this gives it important privacy and security benefits, it could potentially be seen as a drawback in terms of convenience.

Additionally, because palm vein is newer and less familiar, it arguably has a bigger learning curve than older biometrics (such as fingerprint), or highly intuitive biometrics (such as facial recognition, where you don't actually have to do anything to be identified).

However, the simple, ergonomic motion of palm vein means that it's still an easy-to-use and user-friendly biometric. Nonetheless, facial recognition, especially on personal devices, does have significant convenience benefits that palm vein doesn't.

This makes palm vein ideal when shared among large numbers of people (e.g., employees and customers), while facial recognition is ideal for individual use on personal devices (e.g., smartphones and tablets).

5. Legal Compliance

In recent years, major privacy regulations have been popping up around the globe. Since the creation of the GDPR in 2016, many major economies have created their own GDPR copycat laws, making privacy regulations a worldwide trend.

Because of this, companies today have more restrictions than ever on data collection.

And the number-one factor in privacy regulations around the world is consent. Companies must obtain explicit user consent before they're allowed to capture user data, or they face significant legal risks.

Because of this, the importance of privacy-friendly technologies is more important than ever. Companies that implement such technologies have much less legal risk to worry about, and much less hassle to deal with.

Since facial recognition allows for the possibility of capturing a person's data without their consent, it is critical for companies to put safeguards in place to ensure that they've obtained explicit, verifiable consent before collecting user data — or they risk facing serious fines.

The benefit palm vein has over facial recognition is that, since it has consent automatically built-in, it has far less legal risk associated with it.

With palm vein, there's no question whether a user consented to give their biometric data or not, because it can't be captured without a person's explicit interaction with the terminal.

And because automatic, forced capturing of biometric data isn't possible with palm vein (as it is with facial recognition), it is automatically in-line with the consent-focused guidelines in most data protection regulations.

This makes palm vein the more convenient, less risky, hassle-free choice for companies looking to implement biometrics in their business.

Conclusion

Facial recognition and palm vein are powerful biometric technologies with a large range of applications, but they are complete opposites in many ways.

For public and business use, palm vein has many advantages over facial recognition, offering various privacy, security, and accuracy benefits that facial recognition doesn't have.

Additionally, in terms of trustworthiness and legal risk, palm vein is generally the less risky option for companies looking to implement biometrics in their business because of its privacy-focused design.

For use on personal devices, however, facial recognition is a convenient and easy-to-use authentication method that doesn't have the same privacy risks as the kind of facial recognition that is used in surveillance cameras.

These factors make palm vein ideal biometric for shared use (e.g., used by customers or employees), whereas facial recognition is a great choice for authenticating personal devices.

Every biometric has its unique pros and cons. To learn more about the other types of biometrics on the market and help determine which one is right for your business, check out our ebook exploring all of the different biometrics on the market.

Want to learn more?

Read about the difference between facial recognition and palm vein biometrics.

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