Glasses that prevent the wearer from being recognized by face detection software have been demonstrated in Japan, using LED light invisible to the human eye but confusing to monitoring cameras to mask identity. The privacy visor, under development by Isao Echizen's team at the Japanese National Institute of Informatics, works by packing a pair of glasses with eleven near-infrared lights, the positioning of which cancels out the normal characteristics that facial-detection relies upon.
Those characteristics usually count on predictable positions of the eyes and nose to spot a face in the frame. The privacy visor, however, makes what are normally darker areas brighter, by putting LEDs nearby.
As it's still in the prototype stage, the visor isn't exactly aesthetically discrete, and while the LEDs only show up as illuminated to cameras, not those people around you, Echizen and his team concedes they're not yet ideal. One alternative possibility - which would not only avoid using power, but work with cameras not affected by infrared light - is replacing the LEDs with reflective panels.
"This makes light from outside look white, or absorbs it," Echizen said of the new design. "That pattern breaks up the features used in face detection."
Facial recognition is shaping up to be big business, as the systems capable of identifying and processing faces become more efficient and more affordable. Intel, for instance, plans to use it for viewer-tracking, picking out demographic details of those watching content through its upcoming Intel Web TV set-top box.
Meanwhile, the German Fraunhofer Institute has already seen its SHORE system deployed in the wild, capable of picking out not only faces but age, gender, and even the estimated mood of the individual. Fraunhofer sees the technology as being potentially useful in hospitals, automatically managing pain medication dosage depending on how much discomfort patients were showing.
However it's the surveillance applications of facial-recognition that have privacy advocates worried. Fraunhofer also licenses SHORE to retailers who want to track consumer reactions to store window displays - a discrete camera identifying and classifying those reactions in real-time - and other systems are in use in CCTV installations, monitoring public and private locations.