Biometric authentication hits primetime in Super Bowl ads

Sarah Michelle GellarAmong the usual Super Bowl ads for beer, cars and snack food were two commercials that touched on a noticeably different topic: biometric authentication. Neither commercial, one for Olay skin care and the other for WeatherTech’s pet food and water bowls, was explicitly about the technology (although face recognition did play a supporting role in the Olay ad). However, both show that the concept of using what we are to prove who we are has become mainstream. 

Olay killer skin commercial

Olay’s first ever Super Bowl ad references the Scream horror movie franchise. In the 30-second spot, actress Sarah Michelle Gellar, who starred in Scream 2, and her male love interest attempt to escape from a masked intruder who broke into their home. Sarah and her companion run upstairs (of course) and lock themselves in the bedroom. The intruder follows them and breaks down the door.

Biometric authentication’s role in the ad

After hiding by the side of the bed, Gellar’s companion tells her to call someone. But Gellar’s repeated attempts to unlock her smartphone with her face fail. “It doesn’t recognize my face,” she says when her companion asks why she can’t unlock her phone.

Why has biometric authentication failed in this life-and-death moment? Olay’s products have changed Gellar’s appearance so much (in a positive way, of course) that her face no longer matches the biometric stored on her smartphone. The intruder, who’s now hovering over them, also notices Gellar’s improved complexion. “Your skin’s glowing. You could be a movie star,” he says. End scene.

How this compares to using biometric authentication in real life

Lighting, facial expressions, occlusions (items that cover a person’s face, like glasses or hats) and, yes, age, can all impact the effectiveness of facial recognition, said Asem Othman, Veridium’s chief biometric scientist. Another factor that could impact biometric authentication: genetics.

“There may be similarities between the face images of different people, especially if they are genetically related. Such similarities further compound the difficulty of recognizing people based on their faces,” he said.

The challenge for biometric researchers is to develop facial recognition technology that works regardless of these issues, Othman said. Deep neural networks, which use databases of facial images to learn how to better recognize faces, have proven effective at identifying people.

But a massive database containing pictures of people’s faces raises privacy concerns over how the images are obtained and used. Technology companies including Facebook and Google already have such databases, Othman said. Facebook’s database was created using the 350 million photos the site’s users upload every day, giving the company an extensive amount of data to use to train its facial recognition software. While people may have given Facebook consent to use their photos for such a project, the reality of someone’s pictures being used to train facial recognition software may make some uneasy. The question is whether the benefit of improved facial recognition is worth possible privacy concerns.

Read how Veridium helped a major Swiss Bank eliminate passwords and make biometric authentication a reality for its employees.

WeatherTech’s PetComfort commercial

WeatherTech’s commercial for its PetComfort brand immediately captures viewers’ hearts by opening with a closeup of an adorable golden retriever walking across a factory floor. There’s even an ID badge hanging from the pup’s collar. But this isn’t take-your-pet-to-work day at WeatherTech, which manufacturers car accessories like floor mats. This dog, whose name is Scout and is owned by WeatherTech’s CEO, came to work and biometric authentication will help him do his job.

Biometric authentication’s role in the ad

Scout heads to an elevator, hold his paw against a dog-height fingerprint scanner and uses his paw to authenticate and call an elevator that takes him to an R&D lab for PetComfort, which develops nontoxic water and food bowls for your furry, four-legged family members. The remainder of the 45-second ad shows Scout and his canine and feline friends enjoying meals from mercury-free bowls.  

How this compares to using biometric authentication in real life

Presumably, Scout could have jumped up and pressed the down button, but using biometrics is probably easier for him. How biometrics makes some tasks easier is a theme that resonates across species.

Take using passwords to access Gmail, bank accounts, Salesforce, dating apps, Office 365 and the other applications and services people use in their personal and professional lives. Remembering passwords to each account is a hassle. To decrease the likelihood of forgetting a password, people employ tactics that make remembering credentials easier but aren’t the best security practices.

Topping this list of major security violations is reusing passwords. Data breaches are common occurrences, increasing the likelihood that, eventually, the username and password a person uses to access an account or service will end up in the public domain. Attackers, criminals and other nefarious types know that people reuse passwords. So if the bad folks have the password a person uses to log-in to a MyHeritage account, they know there’s a chance the password could potentially get them into a more valuable account, like a Wells Fargo bank account, for example.

Biometric authentication offers an easier and more secure way to authenticate. Instead of trying to remember whether your password is the date of your wedding anniversary or your pet’s name, biometric authentication uses something that you are and always have with you.

Unlike passwords, biometrics can’t be reused if they’re stolen in a data breach. While we’ve all read stories about researchers fooling Apple’s Face ID and the fingerprint sensors on various smartphones –  biometric vendors have put liveness detection algorithms into their technology to defeat most of those attacks.

“As any biometric vendor will testify, as soon as you release a biometric, you’ll have people who are obsessed with trying to break it, fool it and spoof it,” said Veridium Chief Product Officer John Spencer. “[But] we’re relying on computer vision technology and machine learning to differentiate between what’s real and what is fake.”

The addition of behavioral biometrics to the authentication process should make fooling biometric technology even more challenging, he added. Behavioral biometrics are based on how people use their phones and include how a phone is held, swipe patterns and the pressure that’s used when typing.

“Behavioral biometrics are another layer that can strengthen the traditional biometric authentication process,” Spencer said.