Want to beat facial recognition? Join the Insane Clown Posse

Over the weekend, a computer science blogger for WonderHowTo who’s known on Twitter as @tahkion announced his revelation that makeup worn by fans of the hip hop duo Insane Clown Posse (ICP) – collectively known as Juggalos or Juggalettes – makes it very difficult for facial recognition (FR) software to figure out the wearer’s identity.

Tahkion says he discovered the facial recognition trickery while working on his own FR research project and was pretty surprised to find that Juggalo face paint was:

Some of the most effective camouflage I’ve found, even more effective than some styles created deliberately to fool such systems.

Of course, while Juggalo face paint may well fool automated FR, it makes the wearer far more recognizable to just about anyone else – say, humans, Tahkion said. For those who are truly devoted to avoiding facial recognition, this isn’t the answer. Rather, the surveillance-allergic would be better off with an FR-foiling disguise that still looks completely normal to the human eye.

Facial recognition relies on the distances between different landmarks placed on the face. Even though Juggalo makeup manages to “spoof” or replace these landmarks, this change is extremely visible. Ideally, one would want to use makeup or masks to be able to shift significant parts of the face – the jawline, nose, and eyes in particular. There isn’t really anything which has proven this possible yet, but it’s definitely the way these facial recognition evasion techniques are going to try to go.

There have been plenty of attempts to foil facial recognition technology over the years, be it makeup and hair styles a la CV Dazzle; reflective glass nanosphere clothing that ruins flash photography by turning the wearer into a “thermonuclear photobomber!”; creepy T-shirts printed with distorted celebrity likenesses designed to give the technology a migraine; and various iterations of the Privacy Visor: a wraparound, semi-transparent plastic sheet fitted over eyewear frames.

Tahkion noted that Juggalo makeup – a highly contrasted black and white clown mask – succeeds where such other, subtler facial-recognition-foiling techniques fail because it involves a radically redrawn jaw line.

As you can see, Juggalo makeup typically involves putting dark face paint below the mouth and stopping short before it hits the chin, which screws up automated facial recognition (AFR) software’s ability to locate the person’s jaw.

Commenters suggested that Juggalo makeup would only fool “really, really stupid software,” but that humans can easily look at such a face and tell that yup, there’s a jaw below the Joker-esque face paint. That misses the point, Tahkion said.

The power of facial recognition technology is that it’s automated and can churn through hundreds of thousands of faces and instantaneously slap identities on them. He explained that AFR neural networks are trained on contrast levels on normal facial landmarks – such as where a nose is located, or where chin turns into neck. That means that “you’d need to either have a user set the landmarks manually or train a network just on Juggalo facepaint.”

AFR is already in wide use by law enforcement: last week, the FBI used the technology to identify the suspect who allegedly opened fire on the offices of Maryland newspaper Capital Gazette, killing five journalists.

While it is obviously understandable that law enforcement around the globe is eagerly adopting AFR technology, civil rights advocates are calling for caution and regulation around its mass use.

In the US, for one, the FBI had nearly half of the population’s likenesses in a massive face database as of March 2017, though lawmakers have raked it over the coals for doing so illegally, without regulation. The photos have come from civil and criminal mugshot photos, the State Department’s visa and passport databases, the Defense Department’s biometric database, and the drivers’ license databases of 18 states.

The database’s scope, plus the fact that it’s been unregulated, means that nearly half of all Americans are in a facial recognition database that the FBI can get at without warrants or without even having to prove they have reasonable suspicion that we’ve done anything wrong.

Start typing and press Enter to search