Yahoo Testing Ear Print Login System on Smartphones

John Lister's picture

Yahoo is testing a system that could use your ear as a way to log in to a smartphone. It's designed as a cheaper and more practical alternative to using fingerprint recognition.

Biometric identification has become more popular in recent years as a way to increase security, rather than relying on passwords or other inputs that could be guessed or hacked. The concept of biometrics has become ever increasingly mainstream, especially with the latest models of iPhones that include a fingerprint scanner. In fact, Barclays Bank has a system for online customers that scans the pattern of finger vascular structure under the skin.

According to Yahoo, fingerprints are only a viable solution in very expensive phones. That's because they require so much detail that they need special scanners which are hugely expensive to build into a phone, even at the small size needed for a finger. (Source:

Touchscreen Acts as a Basic Sensor

Yahoo's solution is to use neither a dedicated scanner or a camera lens to capture biometric information, but rather to use a phone's touchscreen. Pressing a body part on to the screen, which then measures the pressure, essentially creates a crude image.

Yahoo says this is the equivalent of capturing an 'image' of just six dots per inch. To put that into context, an ordinary website photograph is at a resolution around 12 times greater than this.

However, Yahoo points out that a touchscreen is much bigger than any sensor or lens, so the total amount of information it can gather may still be adequate for identifying unique characteristics in an individual. In a series of tests, it asked users to scan body parts such as ears, fingers, palm prints and fists and then tried to identify people correctly with repeat scans.

Ear Prints Prove Highly Individual

The tests had mixed results. Overall, when the system did identify somebody, it did so correctly 99.52 per cent of the time. The drawback was that getting such accuracy involved being much more cautious. That meant that on just over one in four occasions, the system rejected a valid attempt to log in. (Source:

It turned out that the ear was the most effective log-in tool, partly because the shape varies so much between individuals, and partly because ears neatly fit the available space. Using ears slightly increased the accuracy rate to 99.8 per cent, while reducing the ratio of "false negatives" to one in thirteen.

What's Your Opinion?

Is there a future in using body parts other than fingerprints for biometric information? Would you be happy to use such a system or would you not trust it? Is it worth trying to bring such a feature to cheaper phones? Can you suggest any downsides to using ears as a biometric measurement?

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Dennis Faas's picture

It's fascinating what smartphones can do, especially when technology like this comes along. I'm just wondering if ear prints are any less secure compared to a fingerprint? I say this because people are constantly pressing their ears against their smartphones, which means that it's also much easier to capture their biometric information using a rogue program - especially compared to a fingerprint. The effort to make a fingerprint, at least to me, seems to be much more 'on purpose' than an ear print especially when using a smartphone.

doubleshort's picture

So, every time you want to use your phone, even for texting, messaging, and photos, you would have to hold the phone up to your ear? Sounds a tad bit awkward.