The Attractiveness of Anonymity

02 May 2012
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Valerie Jacobs

The rampant information harvesting of social networking sites and the omnipresence of mobile devices is sending many people on a quest to regain their sense of privacy, a task which is proving to be increasingly difficult. With facial recognition software threatening to put the days of public anonymity behind us, expect privacy-conscious consumers to go to extended lengths to obscure their identity, hoping to regain the ability to “hide in plain sight.”

The first steps to avoid public-facing facial recognition screenings will likely be inspired, innovative and decidedly low-tech. They will require a skillful blending of camouflage and theatrics. One example is Adam Harvey’s CV Dazzle, which takes its name from a camouflage technique used to make WWI warships difficult to detect. Using relatively mundane hair and makeup techniques, like taping asymmetrical shapes around the user’s eyes, CV Dazzle has succeeded at making the user’s face unrecognizable to current facial recognition programs. For the more audacious, look to companies like Illamasqua to lead the charge toward dramatic, transformative styles of makeup and dress—designed to bring out your “alter ego” and obscure your identity.

Currently, researchers are developing thermal imaging cameras to serve as lie detectors, measuring relative heat changes in facial areas. In some cases these cameras can even track individual blood vessels—it isn’t a far stretch to expect facial recognition technology in the future that can see through makeup and hairstyle techniques. The next-gen solution may be in the form of virtual or hologram masks that can alter heat signatures as well.

There is also the question of how this technology will affect even the most basic social interactions. Two decades ago it wasn’t uncommon to know dozens of phone numbers by heart—but mobile technology has rendered that ability almost useless, and most of us only have a handful of phone numbers memorized. If mobile technology can remember our friends by their faces and recall all manner of information in that instant recognition, who’s to say what may happen if we begin to rely on technology to remember faces for us too.

Some users will embrace facial recognition technology for the avenues of mimicry it opens, while others will utilize that same technology to distance themselves from the pack. However, these advances will not be seen as a boon by all—and those fighting back may be the ones who look to the beauty industry for guidance the most. For more perspective on the impact of facial recognition on the beauty industry, check out my recent article “Adaptable Allure” in the March 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.