Facial Recognition Camouflage With CV Dazzle

Here’s one for the “entertaining, with disturbing implications” file – CV Dazzle from artist Adam Harvey. I don’t quite know what to call it: art project? privacy activism? biometrics research? The basic idea is to style hair and apply makeup in a way that prevents face-recognition technology from, well, recognizing faces.

Many people don’t realize the extent to which this technology is used in the wild. Facebook and Picasa users will be familiar with the way photo-tagging seems to know where faces are and whose face it is – that’s face-recognition in action.

Such technology is becoming ever more common, and with security cameras in public and surveillance drones in the works, it will become increasingly difficult to maintain our current levels of privacy. In that regard, this art project serves as powerful social commentary.

The project seems to consist mostly of testing wacky hairdos and black-and-white blotches of makeup in an effort to confuse the facial recognition software. The inspiration for these irregular high-contrast shapes comes from the dazzle camouflage used on WWI warships. These modifications make it difficult (and ideally, impossible) for the software to scan a picture  or video and identify features that enable it to determine whether there’s a face in there or not.

A brief description of the project, from the artist:

This project began as a thesis proposal at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University in the spring of 2010 with the primary objective of thwarting face detection under the guise of high-fashion aesthetics. While there are several obvious approaches to hiding from face detection, some of these can be dismissed. Sunglasses, for example, are a known occlusion which some algorithms account for. And, though functionally effective, wearing masks in public can be illegal. Hoods are popular and effective but make the wearer’s intent to hide too obvious. As an alternative, this project explores ways of hiding in plain sight using ambiguously deceptive fashion.

CV Dazzle