Using clothing as camouflage is not a new concept. When one thinks of camouflage, one usually thinks of hunters or soldiers wearing designs that will conceal them outdoors. However, artists and scientists are going in another direction, creating new kinds of camouflage materials with new purposes in mind. They are looking for ways to provide privacy in a world where it is easy for anyone to take photographs and videos and post them to the internet, or use them to collect data.
Privacy in a world of facial recognition
In this digital age, nearly everyone has a camera and internet access. We cannot always control who takes pictures of us or when, nor can we control what social media sites like Facebook or other organizations do with those pictures once they are online. Whether the concern is safety and privacy, or just not wanting to be tagged in an embarrassing photo, there are plenty of reasons to want to avoid being identified online.
Adam Harvey, an artist and researcher based in Berlin, is developing a type of camouflage to confuse facial recognition systems. HyperFace camouflage was presented at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival as a part of Hyphen Labs’ NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism project, which focused on issues of privacy, transparency, identity, and perception.
Image/HyperFace OpenCV Prototype ©Adam Harvey
The pattern is designed to create thousands of false hits in facial recognition systems, diminishing their confidence in correctly identifying faces and preventing them from detecting the actual person in the image. By wearing clothes or accessories such as scarves printed with this pattern, the individual can minimize their chances of being recognized by these programs.
The “paparazzi-proof” scarf
Saif Siddiqui is another person looking to foil takers of unwanted photographs, but his products, sold under the brand ISHU, take a different approach. Siddiqui has created a patterned fabric that reflects light back at the camera, making everything other than the fabric appear so dark as to be practically invisible.
Image/@SAIF_SDQ via Twitter
This affect only works with flash photography, and is therefore not useful in every situation. But it provides some amount of privacy and control over unwanted photos, particularly at night or under poor lighting. The wearer doesn’t need to even be aware of the photographer for the fabric to be effective.
Siddiqui’s goal is to “give people their right to privacy back,” and to draw attention to the importance of privacy, particularly online. Several celebrities have adopted these products, such as Cameron Diaz and Jay Z. ISHU offers the pattern on a variety of products, including scarves, shirts, pants, and ties.
It can be difficult to find a balance between privacy and convenience, between features that make sharing quick and easy, but also allow collection and sharing of images and information without permission. At a time where privacy and safety seem to be getting harder to control, artists like Harvey and Siddiqui are trying to put that control back into the hands of the individuals. No doubt there will be more innovations like these in the future.
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