New Infrared spectacles fool facial recognition systems


If you are more paranoid than fashion conscious, researchers in Japan have got you covered. They’ve developed a pair of spectacles specially designed to stop you being caught out by facial-recognition software on security cameras.

The National Institute of Informatics put out a press release on their work last month but it appears their ability to avoid detection wasn’t limited to security cameras: mainstream media sources in the West have only just picked up on the news.

According to the researchers, led by associate professor Isao Echizen, the project came about because existing facial recognition use by police and other security groups has now spread to the wider population through technology used by the likes of Google and Facebook.

They pointed to a study at Carnegie Mellon University where students were photographed on a webcam. In 31 percent of cases, the researchers could correctly provide their name thanks to cross-referencing with Facebook profiles, a process taking an average of three seconds. Researchers also looked at 6,000 profiles on a dating site where members use a screenname rather than their real name; for 10 percent of the profiles, researchers could find their true identity from Facebook profile pics.

Echizen and company noted that people have previously tried to get round facial detection systems through methods such as coloring their face or growing and wearing their hair in a way that obscured facial features. The researchers noted this technique is limited because it gets in the way of normal face-to-face interaction.

Instead they tried to develop a solution that took advantage of the fact that cameras can detect a wider range of light wavelengths than the human eye: around 200 to 1100 nm for cameras and 380 to 780 nm for humans.

They used this to develop spectacles that use a near-infrared LED beam, which operates at a wavelength slightly too high for the eye to see. However, it causes enough “noise,” which is visible by the camera, that it leaves it unable to distinguish the actual facial features of the wearer and the facial detection fails.

The LED light can be switched on or off at any time. In the current design, it’s powered by a small battery that has to be put in a pocket and connected to the glasses by a cable.