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Fooling face recognition systems with makeup

NYU Graduate student Adam Harvey has discovered that strange makeup patterns can fool face recognition systems. But you'll have to be OK looking like David Bowie.

anti-surveillance makeup
The facial-recognition system may not notice you in your "CV Dazzle Makeup," but onlookers surely will. Pepin Press/Adam Harvey

The next time you see someone with makeup that puts David Bowie to shame, don't laugh too much. He or she may be cleverly trying to fool face recognition and detection systems with a crazy or asymmetrical design.

It's generally not easy to avoid being spotted by face recognition and detection systems because they use a rather solid algorithm to identify faces, explains The Register:

Based on the so-called Viola-Jones method (PDF), the algorithm examines the spatial relationships of an object captured in an image and looks for features commonly found in faces. Most faces have a dark region just above the eyes, while the cheek bones and nose bridge will appear lighter. When the algorithm detects enough such attributes, it guesses the object is a face. The method is generally regarded as effective. Errors are in favor of false positives, making it hard for unobstructed faces to escape notice when they aren't captured at an angle.

While the algorithm is effective, it can be fooled with makeup applied to "alter the contrasts the technology looks for," says Adam Harvey, a graduate student in New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program who previously conceived of a flashing clutch to ward off paparazzi. As part of his thesis, Harvey discovered that "dark patterns applied around eyes and cheek bones" do this trick quite well by "throwing off the symmetry" and making you look silly.

While Harvey's "anti-surveillance makeup" isn't foolproof, it shows that face recognition and detection systems aren't perfect either. That and the fact that Mr. Bowie might've been on to something.

This story originally appeared on Gizmodo.