Tag Archives: facial recognition

“The Technological Takeover of the Human Body” … and Jewelry to Fight Back

woman wearing Nowak's jewelry: a metallic rectangle over her nose, and two circles under her eyesDebbie says:

My interest in privacy doesn’t often overlap with the general topics of Body Impolitic, so I wouldn’t ordinarily write here about Quentin Fottrell’s article at MarketWatch, ‘The neoliberal takeover of the human body’:

Aram Sinnreich recently went grocery shopping at a Whole Foods Market in his hometown of Washington, D.C., and realized he had left his wallet at home. He had no cards and no cash, but he had no reason to worry — at least, not about paying for his food. “I used my iPhone to pay, and I unlocked it with my face,” he said.

That’s when it struck him: We are just one small step away from paying with our bodily features alone. With in-store facial-recognition machines, he wouldn’t even need his smartphone. Sinnreich, associate professor of communication studies at American University, said he got a glimpse of the future that day. …

Removing the last physical barrier — smartphones, watches, smart glasses and credit cards — between our bodies and corporate America is the final frontier in mobile payments. “The deeper the tie between the human body and the financial networks, the fewer intimate spaces will be left unconnected to those networks,” Sinnreich said.

I don’t want my “intimate spaces,” by which the capitalists mean both my kitchen cupboards and my junk, connected to any networks, whether they are shopping networks or monitoring my political activities.

I’m afraid, however, as Fottrell discusses, that a critical mass of people may choose “convenience” over privacy, and get to the point where their phone and their face are their wallets and credit cards. And it could eventually get to the point where not opting into that technology makes shopping more difficult and punishes people who still carry a wallet.

I found Fottrell’s article while I was looking for background to put Eva Nowak’s jewelry in context. Nowak has designed jewelry for the purpose of avoiding facial recognition software (pictured above). Ironically, the first article I found about this was so extraordinarily advertising and tracker-heavy that I refuse to link to it. Fortunately, several other outlets have also covered this story, including

Polish designer Ewa Nowak tackled the issue of algorithms that use facial recognition. After all, while it might seem helpful when you’re trying to tag your friends in your birthday pictures on Facebook, such technology could pose serious threats to anyone’s privacy if it was used with malicious intent.

According to , Nowak was working with DeepFace, Facebook’s own proprietary facial recognition software. Facebook uses this program to identify people in photos posted to Facebook. That’s disturbing enough, but this technology has uses beyond tagging  your friends or letting you buy groceries. According to the American Civil Liberties Union,

Facial recognition systems are built on computer programs that analyze images of human faces for the purpose of identifying them. Unlike many other biometric systems, facial recognition can be used for general surveillance in combination with public video cameras, and it can be used in a passive way that doesn’t require the knowledge, consent, or participation of the subject.

The biggest danger is that this technology will be used for general, suspicionless surveillance systems. State motor vehicles agencies possess high-quality photographs of most citizens that are a natural source for face recognition programs and could easily be combined with public surveillance or other cameras in the construction of a comprehensive system of identification and tracking.

Some governments are beginning to fight back. Just today, the Chinese Ministry of Information has issued new guidance recommending limiting the use of facial recognition and related applications in schools, including “smart uniforms” (with trackers so the administration knows where each student is at any time).

Closer to home, my home and work cities have banned facial recognition technologies, and so has Somerville, Massachusetts. More cities will follow (probably very blue cities based on this beginning). Again, who knows where the mass of people will wind up — and who knows how many police departments and government agencies will ignore the bans. In case you didn’t know, along with all of its other problems, this technology has deeply racist consequences.

July test results from the National Institute of Standards and Technology indicated that two of Idemia’s [popular French facial recognition software] latest algorithms were significantly more likely to mix up black women’s faces than those of white women, or black or white men.

The [National Institute of Standards and Technology] test challenged algorithms to verify that two photos showed the same face, similar to how a border agent would check passports. At sensitivity settings where Idemia’s algorithms falsely matched different white women’s faces at a rate of one in 10,000, it falsely matched black women’s faces about once in 1,000—10 times more frequently. A one in 10,000 false match rate is often used to evaluate facial recognition systems.

If you think that this won’t be used to the detriment of dark-skinned people, you have some reading to do.

I don’t expect Eva Nowak’s designs to last terribly long: what art can foil, tech can work around. Nonetheless, it’s both comforting and aesthetically pleasing to see artists and governments using their own tools to try to keep us safe from the rapacious tech industry: technology is only an unstoppable juggernaut if we don’t unite to stop it.


Artist Uses Clothing Design to Fight Face Recognition


Debbie says:

Welcome to 2017, and may you and yours, and the people who need it the most, all have good years.

The design above may not look like faces to you, but it was designed to make a computer see lots of faces … and get confused.

Alex Hern’s article in The Guardian showcases Adam Harvey, an artist and tech-manipulator based in Berlin, and his innovative plan to fight the growing reach of face recognition.  As Hern points out, facial recognition techniques are getting more refined, and facial recognition technology is being used in more places. Facebook scans photographs and suggests identifications based on facial recognition matches (!). In all probability, they will provide these suggestions to the FBI or other government agencies on request … and their software is different from the government software, so it provides otherwise unavailable confirmation.

Harvey has also worked on “Islamic-inspired thermal-signature reduction garments for subverting thermal vision surveillance from military drones.” He aims to foil both thermal vision software and facial recognition software as a mechanism for social change:

“overloading an algorithm with what it wants, oversaturating an area with faces to divert the gaze of the computer vision algorithm.”

The resultant patterns, which Harvey created in conjunction with international interaction studio Hyphen-Labs, can be worn or used to blanket an area. “It can be used to modify the environment around you, whether it’s someone next to you, whether you’re wearing it, maybe around your head or in a new way.”

We aren’t going to be able to counteract the relentless invasion of our privacy by getting the watchers to stop, or by keeping our faces hidden. Subversive responses may not hold out the only hope, but the hope they hold out is substantial.

I find it especially encouraging that Hyphen-Labs, Harvey’s partner, are working on a project called “NeuroSpeculative Afrofeminism.”

NSAF innovates on how we will engage with black women through content in their digital future.   Exploring alternative content through tangible products, new worlds and  3D landscapes, and scientific research, in order to inform and change the way we depict black women in society, culture, and the future. Our philosophy is to create an impactful narrative that inspires the next generation of developers and media consumers, to radically transform virtual reality into a world where people of color exist, and to prove that VR and human centered design can be a tool for the betterment of society.

Keep your eye on Harvey, Hyphen-Labs, and NSAF: I will.

Thanks to sschwartzoak for the link.