How to hide from face-detection technology
April 29th, 2012
10:25 AM ET

How to hide from face-detection technology

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - If you take Adam Harvey's advice, here's what you might wanna wear to a party this weekend: A funny hat, asymmetrical glasses, a tuft of hair that dangles off your nose bridge and, most likely, a black-and-white triangle taped to your cheekbone. Optional: Cubic makeup patterns all around your eyes.

All of these otherworldly fashion accessories – which could leave a person looking kind of like an opulent villain from "The Hunger Games" - have a singular goal: to stop your face from being detected by cameras and computers. Called CV Dazzle (short for "computer vision dazzle;" more on the name later), Harvey's project is a provocative and largely theoretical response to the rise of surveillance cameras on street corners and face-detecting technology that's been incorporated into social networking sites like Facebook and Flickr.

If you employ these techniques, Harvey, 30, hopes computers won't even know you have a face:

I don’t want to be unrealistic about it. It’s a pretty conceptual project but it seems to touch on a subject that people are still trying to figure out, which is how to adapt to living in surveillance societies, where not only are you being watched by government surveillance but by citizen surveillance and social-media-type surveillance.

The face appendages aim to trick face detection software by obscuring computer-readable parts of your face. According to Harvey, the key part of the face that computers can read is the "nose bridge," or the area between the eyes. If you can obscure that, you have a good chance of tricking computers into thinking you don't have a face, he said. Another technique is to create an "anit-face," which is less terrifying than it sounds since it just means inverting your face's color scheme. So the black-and-white triangles on the cheeks aim to achieve this effect.

Face detection prevention fashion.

Or, you could just sport a popped collar or a hoodie. More from Harvey:

One idea I’m working on is a double flip-up collar. It’s not much different from a hoodie except that you can fold it down and it’s a new style. The hoodie works great, but of course it’s kind of suspicious.

Asymmetry also fools computers, he said, since software first looks for symmetry in a face.

Harvey developed this concept as a grad-student project at New York University starting in 2010. He hopes to soon put out a fashion guide to avoiding face detection and wants to work with fashion designers to create accessories that trick peeping cameras. He's also working on a computer program that would allow people to draw their own anti-detection fashion, then test it virtually to see if it actually works before they go wandering out of the house with bangs hanging over their noses.

Oh, and the name: "Dazzle" refers to a particular type of camouflage that was used by ships in World War I. The cubist-style pattern on the boats wasn't meant to blend into the surroundings, exactly, but it did have a confusing effect, he said. "Zebras use dazzle camouflage," he said. "If they're all running around it’s increasingly difficult to se how many there are. That’s the advantage to them."

Harvey said he's not completely against face detection in all cases, but he thinks the technology "oscillates between cool and freaky." The public thinking on privacy, has "really turned upside down," he said. "Anything you do in favor of privacy can raise a lot of suspicion now."

He doesn't take things so seriously that he actually wears this stuff to parties, however. He's actually never tried that himself, he said, but is trying to come up with a hat that will look cool and still could conceal his identity - at least from the computers.

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Filed under: Art • Culture • Design • Fashion • Future • Innovation • Tech
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    May 1, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Reply
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      You do not have to be a criminal to want to be anonymous. You may be hiding from criminals that have access to this tech.. You ever think of that.. You do not need to be a criminal to want personal privacy.

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      Criminals wear pants, we should ban them immediately.

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      May 2, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Reply
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      Go to hell, Betty. Free people don't need to be tracked by computers because you're afraid of your own shadow.

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    Next time you wanna spoof a fingerprint reader, take a phot copy of a thumb, any thumb, lick the photo copy and place it on the reader.

    Ping door opens.

    May 1, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Reply
    • gravid07

      Oh and I am not gravid07. GG cnn... your commenting system is on the fritz.

      May 1, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Reply
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      Fine. Then do you give all news organizations, the Federal Government and your state governments plus all other social media permission to plaster your face everywhere for no good reason? I didn't think you, you reactionary turd

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      Hehe... I've been bombarding myself with artificial cosmic rays for a year now to wipe out all of my DNA. They'll never identify me. Ooops, gotta go...I'm feeling a bit sick.

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    I have to stand on the side with the Americans that call it freaky. I can see its usefulness, but not in that much of a public way. I lead a public enough life as is as an entertainer but am a very private about my personal life. Don't need every Tom, Dick, and Harry being able to ID me in their photos. Although this might give the pop-a-razzi a run for their money.

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    Hmmmm . . . sounds like a budding criminal or a terrorist to me.

    May 1, 2012 at 8:02 am | Reply
    • jlv

      Keep giving away everyone elses rights. Bet you'll be the first person in line when they take yours too.

      May 1, 2012 at 11:57 am | Reply
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      Sounds more like someone who is just tired of the Government (who are supposed to work FOR us) and corporations knowing every little detail about our lives! Facial recognition and all the whizz-bang technology does not catch criminals in the act and RARELY provide enough detail to catch them later. Just as speed cameras do NOTHING to prevent speeding.

      May 2, 2012 at 11:35 am | Reply
  34. wallymountz

    Hmmm . . . sounds like a budding criminal or terrorist to me.

    May 1, 2012 at 8:01 am | Reply
    • doesnotwork

      Hmmm . . . you sound like a budding communist or dictator or both to me.

      May 1, 2012 at 10:40 am | Reply
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        Effective law enforcement does not mean all police officers are dictators.

        May 1, 2012 at 11:08 am |
      • jlv

        Effective law enforcement does not mean that everyone is safe either.

        May 1, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Guy Fawkes

      Sounds like a "good German" ready to put on the jackboots and murder a few million Jews.

      May 2, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Reply
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        Wow! From a discussion on effective law enforcement, we've made a jump to the Holocaust. Don't tell me . . . but Americans never landed on the Moon either.

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  35. Rick Springfield

    I once wore an eye patch to avoid facial detection. That's because one measurement is the space between the pupils. Obscure an eye and that foils that measurement. I've also dipped my fingers in gorilla glue to fill in the finger print ridges. I then had a detective try to fingerprint me. He could not get a good print. I then touched items that he printed. He still could not get a good print. I love fooling recognition systems.

    April 30, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Reply
    • StuckOnYou

      I tried that too. They couldn't read my fingerprints, but the detective and I spent a lot of time together until they could pry us apart. Apparently it works on more than just gorillas.

      May 2, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Reply
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