Fooling Facial Recognition With Specialty Glasses
January 22, 2013

Privacy Glasses Foil Facial Recognition Cameras

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

One of the more creepy technologies to emerge in recent years is facial recognition. With this technology, mannequins can determine what kind of people are passing by them at stores, televisions can determine which family member is watching, and bars can instantly check incoming patrons in via social networking.

The automated seamlessness of this technology has the potential to do some very cool things in the future. Yet, no amount of convenience can remove the “Big Brother” aspect felt by many not yet ready to embrace a future where cameras know who they´re looking at.

Cameras are getting smarter, but at their core, they still rely on the reflection of light in order to interpret what (or who) they see.

Professor Isa Echizen is using this weakness against facial recognition cameras in his pair of prototype glasses meant to protect humans from being recognized without their intent.

“As a result of developments in facial recognition technology in Google images, Facebook, etc. and the popularization of portable terminals that append photos with photographic information (geotags), such as photo location and time, as metadata when the photo is taken, information such as when and where photographed subjects were is revealed from the disclosed photo of the person concerned via photos taken and disclosed without their permission,” writes professor Echizen in his paper outlining the functionality of these “privacy visor” glasses.

By themselves, these spectacles look like run-of-the-mill protection glasses found in any wood shop. What makes these glasses different (and what makes them effective) is an array of outward-facing infrared lights. According to Echizen, privacy is “achieved by the photographed subject wearing a wearable device — a privacy visor — equipped with a near-infrared light source that appends noise to photographed images without affecting human visibility.”

Essentially, these infrared lights confuse the facial recognition algorithms, making it unable to detect the wearer. Even better, the lights used in the glasses don´t affect the wearer´s vision.

These privacy visor glasses will be powered by a pocketable power supply and will be reasonably priced, according to professor Echizen. However, those who want to thwart facial recognition cameras have a few other alternatives in case they don´t care to walk around with unfashionable specs.

According to professor Echizen, plenty of make-up can confuse a facial recognition camera. A mask will also do the trick, though many places (such as banks and retail establishments) now have a policy prohibiting masks.

According to the BBC, the hacking collective known as Anonymous, themselves mask wearers, claim these disguises cause facial recognition cameras to believe that the wearer has no face.

Anonymous also says positioning one´s head at a 15 degree angle will fool the cameras into thinking there is no face to detect.

As the technology advances, more companies and industries are finding ways to implement a little facial recognition into their strategies.

Last October, the Federal Trade Commission issued a report offering some “best practices” for these industries that plan to forge ahead and use facial recognition technologies every day. These best practices include obtaining permission before capturing data from a person´s face, as well as offering up front the kind of information which will be gathered from the camera.