Biometrics draws upon the human body’s unique physiological and behavioural patterns. The complexity and randomness of such patterns due to biological and environmental factors makes them highly individual, and therefore useful for identity management.

Examples of biometric traits used in identity management range from the retina, fingerprint and facial recognition to hand geometry, DNA to signatures, typing rhythm and gait.

These are also known as biometric modalities. Of these, the two physiological modalities most commonly used are facial and fingerprint recognition. This makes sense, given that physiological modalities tend to be more stable than behavioural ones. But which of these two modalities, in particular, is most suitable for today’s identity management needs?

How the most biometric recognition works

It’s likely you will be familiar with fingerprint recognition due to its use on their iPhone or other smartphone. This technology has also seen extensive use in recent years in national ID programs, progressing significantly from its roots in forensic applications.

Fingerprint recognition differs from other biometric identification modes in not requiring the user to remain steady or adopt a particular posture, as is required for iris or retina authentication. Instead, the user simply touches the scanning surface of the recognition equipment.

Facial recognition is measured in a similar way to fingerprint in the sense that vectors in the face are measured and this data is evaluating to confirm identity. This means a facial recognition system can identify people by comparing new digital images to pre-established facial characteristics such as eyes, cheekbones and jaws.

Face vs fingerprint authentication

The major drawback of fingerprint recognition is that is requires hardware. You currently need a fingerprint reader in order to use this mode. Although there is the advantage of having readers in some smart phones, not all smart phones have them. Buying your own reader can also be an expensive route to identity management.

Facial recognition on the other hand only requires a camera which are available in almost every smartphone, laptop and tablet. Authentication processes can be easier and more widely available with facial recognition but also less accurate as the quality of the camera being used makes a big difference.

The disadvantage of lower accuracy of facial recognition compared to fingerprint authentication. A subject’s face is also of only medium permanence and stability, with age potentially causing change over time. Meanwhile, fingerprints remain much the same throughout life unless physical damage occurs.

Multimodal approaches are best

While both fingerprint and facial recognition are key biometric modalities, they do vary markedly from each other. Each one has its respective advantages and disadvantages, and neither can replace the other. For this reason, it is a multimodal approach, using several biometric modalities, that we recommend over a unimodal strategy, which only calls upon a single modality.

Here at SmilePass we use a multi-modal approach with scalable security and liveness detection. We understand that every business requires a different approach to identity management, for a personalised, hassle-free demo contact us today and see what we can do for you.