AirPods user authentication could verify your identity by checking your ear canal

Apple has been researching AirPods user authentication technology that promises to verify your identity by checking the shape of your ear canal.

Apple's patent drawing for the AirPods user authentication patent titled “User Identification Using Headphones”
Image credit: USPTO
  • AirPods user authentication could identify whether the owner is using the earbuds
  • The technology could tailor features or block personal information like iMessages
  • AirPods would play and receive ultrasonic sounds to check the shape of your ear canal

Apple is exploring user authentication via AirPods

As first spotted by Patently Apple, the solution is described in detail in Apple’s patent application filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Titled “User Identification Using Headphones,” the filing describes potential privacy issues due to AirPods being unable to identify who’s wearing them.

This means, Apple goes on to explain, that anyone could place your AirPods in their ear and ask Siri to access your personal information, like reading your texts, asking about your relatives and so forth. They don’t even have to invoke Siri—the personal assistant may release personal information by reading incoming notifications.

Upon receipt of a message at the mobile device, such as an instant message, an audible representation of the message may be provided to the user via the headphones. However, conventional systems do not address whether the user wearing the headphones is authorized to interact with personal features of the device, such as receiving messages from the device.

Other signals could help determine a “similarity score” to verify a user’s identity.

Using onboard motion sensors in iPhone and Apple Watch, for example, the system could determine whether the movements of a user’s earbuds, phone and watch correspond to each other. Your iPhone could also play an ultrasonic sound for your AirPods to pick, indicating the devices are close together and that the owner is most likely using them. Read: Check out these great tips for how to increase AirPods battery life

The patent application credits engineers Jun Gong and Gierad Laput as its inventors.

Great, when is Apple releasing such AirPods?

Just because Apple has filed a patent application doesn’t mean it’s determined to bring a particular idea to market. Quite the contrary—Apple, along with many other technology companies, often files these patent applications as a defensive strategy. Sometimes, however, certain patents may end up seeing the light of day, becoming an outward-facing feature or an enabling technology for another feature.