Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
Ditch the numerals for truly special characters including beer steins, fire, and eggplant.
Constantly hitting that “Forgot password” button when trying to log in to your online accounts? Maybe you’d have better luck recalling emoji. That’s the premise of the new “emoji security technology” launched by U.K.-based tech company Intelligent Environment. The app swaps out your numerical passcode with one consisting of four cartoon graphics.
Why emoji? In a press release, self-christened memory expert Tony Buzan explained:
The Emoji Passcode plays to humans’ extraordinary ability to remember pictures, which is anchored in our evolutionary history. We remember more information when it’s in pictorial form, that’s why the Emoji Passcode is better than traditional PINs.
And while Intelligent Environment cites statistics about millennials’ obsession with emojis—evidently, 64 percent of my peers reported that they sometimes communicate exclusively with the little chicken drumsticks or smiling piles of poop—it’s not just hipsters who are using them. As The Atlantic reported in April, analysts from the software company SwiftKey mined aggregated data from the cloud to examine more than one billion messages sent via text, Twitter, Tinder, and more on Android and iOS devices by users around the world. The most popular emojis varied dramatically by country.
OK, so French emoji passwords might consist of hearts. But they still seem easy to forget. Many people rely on mnemonic devices or significant dates to recall numerical PINs. It’s easy enough to remember your birthday or anniversary. How would you remember, say, this sequence?
Buzan has an answer: “You’re building a story, and the brain loves stories, so you remember it.” (In this case, maybe award-winning pizza gave my hungry cat a wicked case of heartburn.)
The creators also argue that emoji passwords are more secure than numerical ones. According to their calculations, there are nearly 3.5 million permutations of emoji-based passcodes, compared to only 7,290 combinations of non-repeating digits.
There are obvious drawbacks: For instance, emoji keyboards are often in flux, adding new symbols; PIN systems are the widely accepted standard. (Mashable reports that the developers are tackling the first problem by only offering a limited number of emoji to choose from.)
BBC reports that the developers are in talks with some banks to implement this security mechanism for digital banking services.