Identity, Privacy & Surveillance

Some history behind it

Since fiction has roots in our society, far deeper most of us can imagine. Do you know the first recorded futuristic fiction work written in Modern Age of reason era was written by Thomas More and the name (I am sure some will be surprised to know) was “Utopia” published in 1516 AD? Though the topic of this novel was more focused on futuristic society and politics where every human was perfect and far superior to existing society. As for more science-oriented fiction came 71 years later in 1587 by the name The Faust Legend which provided the template for a Mad Scientist story for future generations based on which Frankenstein was created in 1818.

Apologies to take you on a detour on Science fiction as what we are about to see today seems to be coming from a template for science fiction novels, movies or folklore. In many of the Sci-fi movies we notice the punk culture is promoted where rebels, freethinkers, vigilantes, are dressed creatively, donning mohawks, faces painted and this inspired a whole generation of music, punk rock, death metal to take inspirations from.

Some people say this is a way to create a personal identity to identify those characters in the movies, which would leave a memorable image even years after the creation of the movie. One small example is Bill Paxton’s portrayal of a Punk Leader in a legendary Sci-fi Movie “The Terminator” (1984). This inspired the punk movement a lot in the 1980s and early 1990s and sketches done by Tyler Stout immortalized this trend for future generations to witness.

Why am I discussing this? This cultural debate got kickstarted again in 2017 when Apple announced and the released its latest iPhone with face ID. A sizable section of the public got concerned about their faces immediately becoming their passwords and any image or photograph of their clear face may become a way to unlock their devices and identity theft to become easier than ever.

Also, with reports coming out that Chinese government as part of a big social experiment, is videotaping their people for surveillance and face recognition software are also being deployed to identify people walking on the street in real time. NEC did a technology demonstration in quite a few Science & Trade expos, where the product was to be sold to banks to deploy this in their ATM machines to identify the person in real time to avoid fraud or identity theft if someone else tries to use your card in an ATM machine.

Innovation that can trump Surveillance

Vogue, the fashion magazine came out with a new fashion trend last year which highlighted the fusion of cosmetics industry, being inspired by punk culture and Emo makeup styles and merging the trend with camouflaging patterns creates a make-up that will confuse the cameras and stops this face recognition software to identify you as who you are. This technique is popularly called CV Dazzle or  Computer vision dazzle, dazzle makeup, or anti-surveillance makeup is a type of camouflage used to hamper facial recognition software, inspired by dazzle camouflage used by warships

Don’t get confused by the picture above. That is Vogue’s style of going over the top to show the fashion quotient of this trend, but in real terms, the face makeup will mask or use different colors at key areas at face where the face recognition software usually picks the data points as the topography of your face. For example, simple makeup that is not different from a person looking to promote their favorite football team can generate the same effect.

CV dazzle combines stylized makeup, asymmetric hair, and sometimes infrared lights built into glasses or clothing to break up detectable facial patterns recognized by computer vision algorithms in much the same way that warships contrasted color and used sloping lines and curves to distort the structure of a vessel. It has been shown to be somewhat successful at defeating face detection software in common use, including that employed by Facebook. CV dazzle attempts to block detection by facial recognition technologies such as DeepFace “by creating an ‘anti-face'”. It uses occlusion, covering certain facial features; transformation, altering the shape or color of parts of the face; and a combination of the two. Prominent artists employing this technique include Adam Harvey and Jillian Mayer.


With CV Dazzle becoming the hottest trend among the generation inspired by Alan Walker and paranoid about their identity and privacy, are we heading towards a society that someday mimics a Sci-fi movie where oddly styled people roam on the streets, in a quest to keep themselves hidden from the prying eyes of the government or authorities? Only time will tell.

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