Facial Recognition with Masks

  • January 15, 2021
PC: Holly Bae (11)

Everyday, smartphone users with facial recognition software struggle to unlock their phones due to their mask covering half of their face. Although it’s only a problem presented to those who go outside and rely on facial recognition, it challenges the convenience of technology in today’s global pandemic.

Multiple technological groups seek to create a solution for masked faces. One group, in particular, The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), drew more than 150 separate facial recognition algorithms. Their research revealed that it’s harder to recognize a face when the nose and mouth are covered, so the lower the mask is on one’s face, the higher the success rate there is for the face to be recognized. The group experimented with applying digital masks (embedded into the software’s code) to a person’s face and found that the software was still having trouble identifying faces even after months of work. 

A researcher released a report that stated, “We were not able to pursue an exhaustive simulation of the endless variations in color, design, shape, texture, bands, and ways masks can be worn,” later denoting that the performance of facial recognition software was too inconsistent since masks were not always the same or even worn the same way. Despite all these troubles, they said they were aiming to make the margin of error 5% when scanning your face. For reference, without a mask, facial recognition has fail rates below 0.3%. 

Many students at LCHS are glad that progress is being made in the technological department for facial recognition. 

Chris Lee (11) shared, “It’s difficult for me since my phone can’t recognize my face, but I don’t want to take my mask off in public, so I’d have to wait later to unlock my phone manually. It would be nice to have facial recognition where it works when I have my mask on so it’s more convenient.”

Facial recognition also proves to be difficult for human interaction as well. Many students have shared their experiences with not being recognized or being recognized due to their masks taking up half of their faces. 

Aditya Desai (11) shared, “Whenever I go out, it is often difficult distinguishing people that we would otherwise recognize as we are only able to see one’s eyes and forehead, as the rest of their face is covered by a mask. Just last week, I walked by a friend who I had known for a very long time as I’ve never met him before, just because I couldn’t recognize him through his mask”

Megan Pan (11), who works as an artist at Paper Rabbit, explained, “It’s not usually a huge problem but sometimes I don’t recognize a customer at work and they’ll have to tell me that it’s them for me to realize it.”

Despite COVID-19 being a huge struggle for everyone, the world is making strides to return life to normal. Hopefully, by the time technology can recognize faces with masks we will no longer have to use them, but all we can do is try our best and take precautions to stop the spread of this disease. 

Information for this article came from The Verge (

%d bloggers like this: