Faceless Facial Recognition Is Here


There’s no escaping facial recognition. Facebook uses it to help you tag photos. You can configure your Android smartphone to unlock by just looking at it. Big businesses like Walmart use it to catch shoplifters. Some high-tech churches even use it to track attendance.

Depending on the software being used, facial recognition programs can be as accurate at recognizing faces as we are. That means that wherever you show your face, computers can recognize you and track you. And the idea of a computer shadowing your every move, watching and recording what you’re doing… it’s a little creepy.

While there are a whole host of privacy concerns, it hasn’t slowed down the development of facial recognition technology. Soon, computers will be able to recognize your face without actually seeing your face. At the Max Planck Institute, researchers are working on faceless facial recognition.

This new tech is just what it sounds like: the software is designed to recognize people in images even if their faces are blurred or obscured. Instead of looking at the face itself, faceless facial recognition focuses on the head and body to identify a person. After seeing a single unobscured photo, the software can recognize the individual with 69.6% accuracy in blurred photos. After seeing 10 unobscured photos, that jumps up to 91.5% accuracy.

And this is a real problem when it comes to protecting your privacy. In the past, people have used a lot of different means to protect themselves from facial recognition. More low-tech facial recognition can be thwarted by something as simple as poor lighting or a change in expression. Even more sophisticated facial recognition can’t understand masks and get confused if you’re wearing a shirt with someone’s face on it. Security firm AVG has even created proof of concept “invisibility glasses” that use infrared lights in the frames to confuse facial recognition systems.

Facial recognition technology is certainly good, but up to now there have been ways to get around it if you didn’t want to be tracked. With faceless facial recognition, that simply may not be possible.

Even without face—or faceless—recognition technology, companies are always looking for new ways to track you. Disney, for example, has recently patented a device designed to take photos of theme park visitors’ shoes to gather data. Cameras aimed at shoe level throughout the park could then track specific visitors and potentially offer them customized experiences. Though Disney says it doesn’t currently plan to roll out shoe recognition at its parks, the patent raises an interesting question: even without facial recognition, can we really avoid being tracked?

The Max Planck study specifically looked at the privacy issues involved in facial recognition technology, saying the findings were cause for concern. And if researchers have found out how to do faceless facial recognition, there’s a good chance others have as well—technology like this could already be used to track you.

But facial recognition isn’t all bad news. It’s possible technology like this could even be used to improve your privacy, as suggested by a recent patent by Snapchat. The company proposes using facial recognition to determine who’s in a picture, and depending on that person’s privacy preferences, refusing to share the image or automatically editing it.

[Image credit: Suzanne Kantra/Techlicious]

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