Just when I had started putting on my tinfoil hat and fearing the onslaught of facial recognition software in everything from traffic lights to The Gap, fashion has (once again) come to my rescue. Privacy advocates have been ringing alarm bells about this ever pervasive tech and its ability to track your movements, purchases, and travel patterns. They, and I, should have had more faith in capitalism’s tendency to solve big scary problems, and the hacking community’s love of engaging in an arms race.
Recently a pair of Tokyo professors debuted their “privacy visor” that uses near infrared light to confuse the facial recognition software. While the light emitted is invisible to human eyes, don’t think for a second that these glasses will allow you to thwart the authorities with style. At the moment they are nothing more than bulky lab glasses with light diodes attached and an external battery that must be stored in your pants pocket. But this proof of concept has attracted attention, and offers, from companies wishing to commercialize the glasses with an intended cost as low as $1 each.
This appears to be not so different from the “infrared flaring” technique espoused by several DIY hackers. The idea is to install a single point source of an IR laser into a camping-style headlight. This way, if you look directly into the camera the light sensor will be overloaded by your laser. This would effectively make your head a giant white spot. However, both of these infrared techniques fail if the camera has a simple (and to hear experts put it ubiquitous) infrared filter.
A decidedly more low tech way to confuse facial recognition sensors is to wear the Pixelhead – the anti-facial recognition mask. This is nothing more than standard issue terrorist ski-mask with a large pixel pattern printed on the exterior. Not subtle, but I’m sure it works. But can it possibly work any more than just wearing a mask without the fancy pixel print? After all, what really confuses these programs is any technique that destroys the face’s natural symmetry or one that obscures the intersection around the eyes and the bridge of the nose.
For those too bashful to wear a camping light or full face mask, but not too bashful to look like Lady Gaga there is CV Dazzle. Named after the famous WWI “dazzle” camouflage used on ships to confuse submarines, CV Dazzle shows a variety of hairstyles and makeup applications that confound our future robot overlords. All of these suggestions are adventurous to say the least. Whether or not they or stylish or haute couture, however, is not for me to decide.
Just like the glasses or the mask, it is hard to blend in to a crowded subway platform with a oddly shaped bangs and a gallon of makeup on your face. Indeed, the whole idea of camouflage is that it blends in with the environment. That is where Stealth Wear comes in. While many of the techniques above are intended as pieces of art or proofs of concept, these pieces of clothing are being manufactured for public sale. With this line we enter Adam Harvey’s world of “paranoia fashion.” The line includes an anti-drone hoodie and scarf, and an X-ray blocking T-shirt. The hoodie and scarf include a material that makes thermal imaging (common on aerial drones) very difficult, thus preventing detection from the air. The hoodie also has a shielded pocket that prevents your cell phone from being tracked by blocking its signal. Meanwhile, the shirt is made to protect your heart from any X-ray radiation emitted from various scanners.
But what happens when you are looking so stylish in your Predator-vexing hoodie, or dolled up like Lady Gaga’s backup dancer and the inevitable paparazzi arrive? Enter the Camoflash, the “anti-paparazzi fashion accessory.” Another product of Adam Harvey – as was the CV Dazzle project – this woman’s clutch emits a strobe of light when it detects a camera’s flash. This results in the end photo featuring nothing but a large light flare wearing your fashionable dress and shoes. The purse is somehow capable of dealing with multiple cameras at once (as often happens in these situations) because it is said to have no recycle time for its strobe.
While all of these concepts are interesting, it appears that Gucci beat them all to the fashionable activism market with their over sized sunglasses. High tech solutions are always fun to play around with, but the experts agree that the best way to block your face from facial recognition software and cameras is to simply wear sunglasses. Oh well, it seems granny glasses will be replacing my tin foil hat for now.