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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Some designers, researchers and activists are trying to fool facial recognition technologies with fashion.

What’s happening: The protests in Hong Kong have drummed up new interest in anti-surveillance fashion, according to designers Adam Harvey and Scott Urban.

The big picture: Data repositories contain millions of faces compiled everywhere from social networks to dating sites to cameras at restaurants — with no oversight of how they’re collected.

From sunglasses to hoodies, adversarial fashions are becoming increasingly popular as facial recognition use spreads — despite calls to ban the technology.

  • Privacy eyewear: Urban designs IRpair sunglasses, which prevent even your iPhone from recognizing you — and dupe infrared facial recognition technologies.
  • Camouflage makeup: Computer Vision Dazzle is an anti-surveillance makeup project by Harvey, which tricks facial recognition algorithms by using unusual makeup tones, concealing the nose and creating asymmetry. But the flashy makeup can make you more visible to other humans.
  • False-face patterns: Harvey's Hyperface is a textile pattern that fools facial recognition software into detecting facial parts like eyes, mouths and noses on your clothing to focus on these “faces” rather than yours.
  • Anti-paparazzi devices: CamoFlash, also by Harvey, triggers LEDs that overexpose paparazzi camera flashes.
  • Anti-drone hoodies and hijabs contain shiny fabrics that reflect thermal radiation, to “avert overhead thermal surveillance," designed by Harvey.
  • Patches on beanie hats designed by researchers from Moscow trick the state-of-the-art facial recognition system ArcFace.
  • Minimalist brass masks by Polish designer Ewa Nowak, called Incognito, deflect facial recognition software like the DeepFace algorithm used by Facebook.

But, but, but: Academics like Torin Monahan argue that designs like CV Dazzle normalize the surveillance state and contribute to the “harmful conditions they seek to change.”

At stake is the question of what is considered identity in this new era of surveillance, where travelers crossing the U.S. border are subject to facial biometrics collection and truck drivers are monitored with infrared facial recognition systems.

  • Azeem Azhar writes in his newsletter, Exponential View, "Is our future one where we have to disguise our real selves (and emotional states) in order to be true to them?"

What's next: There will never be a way to pull off of every system of surveillance, Urban says, even with innovations like privacy eyewear and clothing.

  • But Harvey disagrees. The point of his designs are "to show people that surveillance has its vulnerabilities."
  • "The challenge now," he says, "is looking at how people are looking at you."

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's "overwhelming force" doctrine

President-elect Biden arrives to introduce his science team in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President-elect Biden has ordered up a shock-and-awe campaign for his first days in office to signal, as dramatically as possible, the radical shift coming to America and global affairs, his advisers tell us. 

The plan, Part 1 ... Biden, as detailed in a "First Ten Days" memo from incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, plans to unleash executive orders, federal powers and speeches to shift to a stark, national plan for "100 million shots" in three months.

Off the Rails

Episode 2: Barbarians at the Oval

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 2: Trump stops buying what his professional staff are telling him, and increasingly turns to radical voices telling him what he wants to hear. Read episode 1.

President Trump plunked down in an armchair in the White House residence, still dressed from his golf game — navy fleece, black pants, white MAGA cap. It was Saturday, Nov. 7. The networks had just called the election for Joe Biden.

Fringe right plots new attacks out of sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestic extremists are using obscure and private corners of the internet to plot new attacks ahead of Inauguration Day. Their plans are also hidden in plain sight, buried in podcasts and online video platforms.

Why it matters: Because law enforcement was caught flat-footed during last week's Capitol siege, researchers and intelligence agencies are paying more attention to online threats that could turn into real-world violence.