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iPhone 5s Touch ID Stores Biometric Data, Not Fingerprint

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Given government-sanctioned NSA spying, breaches in security through hacking and malware, and privacy concerns in recent years, there have concerns about the Touch ID technology that Apple had introduced alongside the iPhone 5s earlier this week.

Touch ID allows the iPhone 5s to authenticate users to quickly unlock the iPhone and authorize purchase transactions on iTunes and the App Store to make purchases without requiring users to enter in a physical PIN or security code.

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And while the novel feature is aims to simplify things, users grew concerned about the privacy implications of Touch ID as Apple wasn’t clear if it was storing a user’s actual fingerprint, which could be exploited for other purposes if the government spy agencies had access or if the iPhone fell into the hands of thieves or hackers. Apple went on to set the record straight with the Wall Street Journalinforming potential iPhone 5s buyers that it is storing biometric data and not the fingerprint itself.

“Apple’s new Touch ID system only stores “fingerprint data,” which remains encrypted within the iPhone’s processor, a company representative said Wednesday,” the Journal reported. “In practice, this means that even if someone cracked an iPhone’s encrypted chip, they likely wouldn’t be able to reverse engineer someone’s fingerprint.”

Hopefully, this should appease users with privacy concerns. A stream of search results came back on Twitter when searching for the terms NSA, fingerprint, and iPhone.

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And though the feature was heavily promoted on the new iPhone 5s that’s coming later this month, Apple is being conservative with Touch ID. At launch, at least, third-party developers won’t be given access to the system and it’s use is more restricted to unlocking the phone and for iTunes transactions.

Despite its limitations right now, a representative for JP Morgan Chase Bank told me that he is hopeful that this would reduce iTunes fraud. Chase is one of the more aggressive banks for flagging down any iTunes transaction for fraud, and having two or more iTunes purchases in a single day could set off the fraud alert and freeze a customer’s debit or credit card. The Chase representative informed me that iTunes fraud is a huge problem for the bank and it’s measures are more aggressive, but with biometric security he is hopeful that less fraud may ensure for a smoother iTunes experience between Chase customers and iTunes users.

And while Apple’s new fingerprint optical sensor is being described by early testers as an improvement over the more fickle readers of laptop fingerprint scanners that often render more false negatives, rejecting an authorized user’s fingerprints, the iPhone system isn’t perfect yet. Reports say that users with wet hands, who use lotion, or have sweaty fingers may have a difficult time getting their fingerprints read by the sensor.

Tech enthusiast in Silicon Valley enjoying the possibilities of ubiquitous connectivity, information sharing, and collaboration enabled by mobile broadband. You can contact Chuong on Twitter @chuongvision or search +chuongvision on Google+.

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