NYC commuters with an iPhone are risking COVID exposure just to unlock their devices on the subway


Apple iPhone users worldwide started to get frustrated when global agencies suggested that face masks be worn as a preventative measure against the spread of COVID-19. That’s because those iPhone models using Face ID couldn’t verify the identity of the person holding the phone because of the mask. As good as Face ID is in matching a person’s face even if he/she grows a beard, wears glasses, or gets a haircut, Apple couldn’t anticipate when developing the feature that users would be wearing a mask when going outside.

New York City transit system wants to work with Apple on promoting faster Passcode Screen for mask-wearing riders

Patrick Foye, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook that was obtained by the Associated Press. In the letter, Foye says that he has seen commuters removing their masks to log-in to their iPhones. During a pandemic that continues to infect and kill Americans, removing your face mask to satisfy Face ID is not suggested, especially on a crowded subway platform or on the train itself. Apple also added Apple Pay Express Transit which allows riders of some subway and bus lines to use an iPhone or Apple Watch to pay without having to wake the device.

In New York City, all bus and train riders must wear masks and maintain social distancing. The MTA says that 90% of its customers are wearing some type of face covering which means that quite a few iPhone users could be exposing themselves to the virus by lifting or removing their masks to get Face ID to work (if you’re familiar with the New York City subway system, you know that they might be exposing themselves period).

In his letter to Cook, Foye wrote, “We understand Apple is working to address the issue and know that Apple has a range of technologies at its disposal as a global leader among tech companies. We urge Apple to accelerate the deployment of new technologies and solutions that further protect customers in the era of COVID-19.” The MTA chairman added that he would be willing to work with Apple on a promotional campaign to alert riders about the changes made in the latest iOS update.

Apple responded by sending an emailed statement. “There’s nothing more important to us than the health and safety of our customers,” the tech giant wrote. “We are fully committed to continuing to work with the MTA to support their efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

The MTA isn’t asking Apple to develop new technology or update the passcode screen. It merely wants to work with the tech company to put up display ads or otherwise inform riders on MTA vehicles and subway cars that they don’t need to take off their masks even for just the short time it takes Face ID to work.

While subway ridership in New York City plunged by 90% at the pandemic’s peak, the numbers are rising although they are still well below pre-pandemic levels. New York City was once the global COVID-19 epicenter, the city has not seen over 1,000 new cases on a daily basis since May 30th. New York City’s success in beating back the virus’ spread might leave commuters less diligent which would also be a good reason for the MTA and Apple to collaborate on a message that can be promoted to commuters riding the MTA bus and subway lines.

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