This ‘always-on smartphone camera’ feature seems like a privacy nightmare

“Even if you don’t touch or lift your phone to wake it, the front camera is continually seeking for your face.” Judd Heape, Qualcomm Technologies’ vice president of product management, described the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor’s new always-on camera capabilities, which will be available in top-tier Android phones early next year.

This may either excite or scare you, depending on who you are. Qualcomm believes that this new capability will allow new use cases, such as waking and unlocking your phone without picking it up or having it automatically lock when it no longer sees your face.

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However, for those of us who are aware of how modern technology is being used to invade our privacy, a camera on our phone that is constantly recording images even when we aren’t using it sounds like the stuff of nightmares, with a cost to our privacy that far outweighs any potential convenience benefits.

Qualcomm’s key pitch for this feature is that it allows you to unlock your phone simply by looking at it, even if it’s on a table or propped up on a stand. You don’t have to pick it up, touch the screen, or speak a command; it just unlocks when it recognizes your face. Maybe your phone is installed in your car, and you can just glance over at it to check driving directions without taking your hands off the wheel or leaving the screen on the whole time.

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It also makes your phone more secure by immediately locking it when it no longer sees your face or detects someone peeking over your shoulder and eavesdropping on your group chat, according to the firm. If you’re looking at your phone alongside someone else, it can also prevent private information or alerts from appearing. Your phone is locked if you aren’t looking at it; it will be unlocked if it detects you. If it detects you and another person, it can lock the phone or prevent private information or alerts from being displayed on the screen.