This Filter Makes Your Photos Invisible to Facial Recognition
Digital cloaking, and how you can reclaim a modicum of digital privacy
In 2020, it’s safe to assume that any photo uploaded and made public to the internet will be analyzed by facial recognition. Not only do companies like Google and Facebook apply facial recognition as a feature, but companies like Clearview AI have been discreetly scraping images from the public internet in order to sell facial recognition technology to police for years.
Now, A.I. researchers are starting to think about how technology can solve the problem it created. Algorithms with names like “PrivacyNet” and “AnonymousNet” and “Fawkes” now offer a glimmer of refuge from the facial recognition algorithms trawling the public web.
These algorithms aren’t the solution to privacy on the web — and they don’t claim to be. But they’re tools that, if adopted by online platforms, could claw back a little of the privacy typically lost by posting images online.
Fawkes is an anti-facial recognition system based on research from the University of Chicago. The program, a nod to the Guy Fawkes masks made popular by hacking group Anonymous, tries to limit the use of images with faces posted online.
Fawkes identifies these invisible features and then tweaks them, eliminating commonalities.
When a facial recognition algorithm is trained to recognize a person’s appearance, it does so by finding relationships between pixels in the different training images it’s shown. That relationship could be as simple as the geometry of the face, but University of Chicago researchers point out that these algorithms also pick up invisible “features” of a person’s appearance.
Fawkes identifies these invisible features and then tweaks them, eliminating commonalities between images. Since these tiny features weren’t visible to the human eye before, neither are the alterations. These slight changes are called a “cloak.”
To test how effectively cloaked images fooled real-world algorithms, the researchers trained the facial recognition algorithms sold by Microsoft, Amazon, and Google on cloaked images. They…