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How to hide from facial recognition software?

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With the recent technological developments face recognition is no longer a science fiction movie feature. Facial recognition is now widely being used not just in mobile devices, but also being installed in public locations, schools and airports. It is mainly integrated in security and strengthening the legal system, health, marketing and retail. But can you hide from facial recognition software at all?

Big corporations like Facebook, Google, Microsoft are rapidly advancing and already using their own face recognition technologies. The success rate of some algorithms got even better than humans (ex. Academia – University of Hong Kong algorithm scored 98.52% compared to 97.53% achieved by humans).

Recently it has become quite easily also for smaller companies and even startups to develop facial recognition models. One of the main reasons for this are the shorter training timelines. This could be achieved by faster and more affordable hardware. Moreover the access to publicly shared social media, used as a training data, boosts it even more.

Hide by “cloaking” your image

“How could we retain our privacy in this digital age?” is a fair question to all of us. Researchers from the SandLab Chicago University Emily Winger and Shawn Shan seem to have found an answer.

They have developed a tool called Fawkes that can “cloak” your image and make it invisible for facial recognition software. Fawkes is designed to help individuals protect themselves from AI being thought how to recognize their private social media photos.

original images compared with their cloaked versions
Original images compared with their cloaked versions. Source: SandLab University of Chicago

Vendetta against facial recognition

The tool is named after the Guy Fawkes masks inspired by the novel V for Vendetta.

Fawkes’ AI will be slightly changing small features on your face to cheat the facial recognition software. For the casual observer the cloaked image will look like the original, but to the facial recognition software the space representations will match those of another person, making it unable to verify your identity. The success rate of the software is often close to 100% against some of the biggest names in the facial recognition services. So there is still hope for one to hide from facial recognition software.

The long run

The Fawkes tool could prove to be particularly useful for social media users. For it to beat the facial recognition engines though most of the uploaded pictures in the web should be “cloaked”. The process will be long, but as people start eventually using Fawkes and the number of treated pictures becomes bigger than the current ones the facial recognition algorithms will stop functioning properly.

SandLab published their first paper on Fawkes algorithm earlier this year and end of July we already have Fawkes available as a free software for Windows, Mac and Linux users.

Despite everything else happening in the world, it seems that online privacy is still an important concern for people in the digital world.

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