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Face unlock may hit Chromebooks, another step toward killer mobile device status

Buried in recent commits to the Chromium open-source project that underpins Google Chrome, and by extension Chrome OS, is an update incorporating face detection. While this may have future ramifications for Google Chrome that one can only speculate on, this update seems primarily aimed at enabling Chromebooks with the right hardware to perform unlocking via facial recognition (more commonly known as “face unlocking”).

Currently, there is no confirmed date for the public, stable release of face unlocking functionality. But considering that Google has teased gesture control in the Pixel 4 uncharacteristically early, there is a good chance that it might reveal Chrome OS face unlocking to the world as part of the full unveiling of the Pixel 4 since they both include substantial new hands-free control options.

This latest peek at upcoming Chrome OS features coincides with a number of other planned additions to breathe new life into an ecosystem that, outside of education, is often eclipsed by their heavyweight desktop OS competitors. Google recently addressed Chrome OS’s messy approach to how apps interact with OS data by introducing its “App Service” to the platform. More significantly, the company signaled a seismic shift in the entire Chrome OS ecosystem by announcing that it would soon be able to download and install full-fledged Linux software, a move which would usher in a dramatic explosion in the variety of applications that Chromebooks could handle.

All of this taken together makes for a clear indication that Google, far from letting Chrome OS languish, is continuing to forge ahead with the platform. Some whisperings suggest that the expected face unlock functionality could be a major selling point for the “Atlas” Pixelbook 2, allowing it to better compete in the traditional desktop market which Chromebooks have struggled to put a dent in.

One question that Google will have to answer before face unlocking can hope to take hold in Chrome OS is how it will respect consumer privacy. In the eyes of many, Chromebooks are closely associated with education, so a feature which is so dependent on data as personal as one’s face will need to come with privacy reassurances in order to keep from alienating its core, highly privacy-conscious market.

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Jonathan Terrasi
Jonathan has studiously followed trends in technology, particularly in information security and digital privacy, since 2014…
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