Right now, it’s fair to say that you’re probably at home rugged up in your jammies and out of Big Brother’s sights. But the world, when we can finally enter it again, is waiting for us with millions of digital eyes. From license plate scanners, airports and retailers, to your neighbour’s doorbells and companies like Apple and Google marketing it as a security feature, facial recognition technology is everywhere – ready to track, trace, monitor and commodify your every move.
To push back, privacy-focused academics, designers and activists have created wearable accessories, clothes and makeup meant to disrupt the technology.
Researchers at Northwestern University have designed an anti-surveillance t-shirt with a kaleidoscopic patch of colour that essentially makes its wearer undetectable to AI-facial recognition technology.
Facial recognition software uses artificial intelligence to detect faces and human figures in real-time. The algorithms work by recognising a characteristic in an image, drawing a ‘bounding box’ around it and assigning a label to that object. To counteract this, the t-shirt’s brightly coloured, pixelated patterns confuse and dazzle the technology, making it impossible for the AI to map out facial features fully.
According to Xue Lin, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern University, the shirt makes you 63 percent less likely to be detected by digital surveillance technology, but it’s got some issues. “We will have difficulties in making it work in the real world because there’s that strong assumption we know everything about the detection algorithm,” she said. “It’s not perfect, so there may be problems there.”
From wearable face projectors that project someone else's face onto your own face to avant-garde makeup and a headscarf decorated with faces intended to confuse AI algorithms, the t-shirt is only part of a growing number of attempts to rebel against digital surveillance.