Google will ban face-altering photography in Android 11

The next version of Android was discovered to have a small, but significant, change for photography. With the update, Camera API Behavior v.7.5.4, "CameraDevice" and Camera API may not alter the appearance of human faces. While there's little Google can do to stop the altering of human faces in photos after photos are already captured, this update makes it so an official Google Certified Android device cannot allow its camera's image processor to alter the appearance of a human face before or while it's being captured in a photograph.

Per the update, Google requires that new Android devices "MUST ensure that the facial appearance is NOT altered including but not limited to altering facial geometry, facial skin tone, or facial skin smoothening." As of publish time for this article, this rule is not included in Android compatibility rules for Camera API. There is a set of rules there numbering C-0-1 up to C-0-11, (plus one C-SR), and this newest rule will appear soon as C-0-12.

The most immediate effect this will have on the Android universe is in smartphones that have "beauty mode" turned ON by default. Phones made by Huawei, Vivo, and others include an in-camera beauty mode that may need some adjustments before they'll work with Google's latest OS.

That is IF they're working with Google's official Certified iteration of Android, with Google apps and access to the Google Play app store. Given Huawei's situation over the past few years, they might not need pay heed to this rule at all if they're releasing a phone without access to Google Services.

Another possible reason for this change has to do with the ever-changing state of artificial intelligence and machine learning. If your Android phone's image processor can change the appearance of a person's face on-the-fly, it becomes rather easy to snap a completely legitimate-looking photo of a person who looks very different from their real-world self.

We're talking deepfake face swapping here. We're going way beyond the basic harmless fakery brought to us by companies like Snapchat.

Back in November of 2015, Reuters banned photographers from submitting RAW photos. To maintain journalistic integrity at its most basic, to make certain that what's being recorded is as close to what a human would otherwise see or experience, stopping easily-altered image capture in its tracks was a good step by Rueters, just as ending in-processor face alteration is a good step by Google.

Now we've just got to see whether Google's able to implement similar changes throughout Android – or if it's already too late. Cross your fingers companies like Adobe also continue to tow the line.