Posts Tagged ‘privacy’

Against Facial Recognition

Sunday, August 16th, 2020

I’m not sure if you need this. But for some people in some countries it could be very important, assuming that it works. I’ve always been very open on-line, posting only under my real name and everything I post is public. I’ve been careful though only to post things that I don’t mind everyone knowing about me.

As a journalist I’ve had some advice and training on privacy issues, particularly on messaging and e-mail, but haven’t ever felt I was in a situation where I needed to put this into practice. But I do sometimes worry a little about my pictures on line and how these might be used to build up profiles of some of those present by legal or illegal groups, including the police who are already making use of facial recognition in various city environments.

There have been various attempts to block facial recognition, both through the courts and through various subterfuges, including the use of masks and special makeup. Covid-19 has surely added to the problems faced by Dynamic Neural Networks in recognising individuals and whereas wearing a mask was often a criminal offence now you may be fined for not doing so.

What is new about Fawkes (it gets its name from the ‘Anonymous’ mask) developed by a team of students at the SAND Lab at University of Chicago is that it is the first tool to enable us to “protect ourselves against unauthorized third parties building facial recognition models that recognize us wherever we may go” that “gives individuals the ability to limit how their own images can be used to track them”, able to defeat the tools used by systems such as https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/5dmkyq/heres-the-file-clearview-ai-has-been-keeping-on-me-and-probably-on-you-too clearview.ai using deep learning to identify individuals.

The team explain how Fawkes works (and for the technical there is a publication and source code available on the site)

At a high level, Fawkes takes your personal images and makes tiny, pixel-level changes that are invisible to the human eye, in a process we call image cloaking.

They go on to state that “if and when someone tries to use these photos to build a facial recognition model, “cloaked” images will teach the model an highly distorted version of what makes you look like you.”

Original
Cloaked

I’ve downloaded the software (a small file available for Mac and PC) and run it on a picture or two. It was rather slow – but my first files were large. I tried it again on a couple of 600×400 pixel images to post here, and it took around 100s to convert the pair.

The differences are real but pretty subtle – easier to see if you right click to download the files then view them one after the other in your image viewer. The change between the two in each pair then gives me a slightly weird feeling

But these were both images of a single person and I thought I’d try it on something rather more complex but the same size. Although it said it would take about 1 minute, 5 minutes later I was still waiting, and waiting…. I went away and did something else and I think it took around 7-8 minutes. There were small differences to most of the larger faces in the image but many appeared completely unchanged.

Original
Cloaked

The input files were all jpegs, but the output files are png, and have roughly five times the file size in bytes. They had also lost their various keywords and presumably other metadata. The files went back to a similar size to the originals when saved from Photoshop as jpg at an appropriate quality level, and it is these I’ve used here. Saving as jpg perhaps very slightly diminishes the differences.

I have of course no way of knowing whether the ‘cloaked’ files would – as the inventors say their trials show – provide at or near 100% protection “against state of the art facial recognition models from Microsoft Azure, Amazon Rekognition, and Face++”, but can only accept their assurances – and presumably their paper gives more details on their testing.

Fawkes is at the moment more a demonstration of concept rather than usable software, and you would have to be very concerned about your on-line privacy to treat pictures with it. But it does show that there are technical ways to fight back against the increasing abuse of personal data and its commercial exploitation by corporations.

Recently we’ve seen complaints being made by protesters about photographers putting their pictures online, with some arguing that their permission is needed or that they should be pixellated. While photographers rightly argue their right to photograph and publish public behaviour as a matter of freedom of speech – and the idea of claiming privacy seems to negate the whole idea of protest, I can see no objection to minor alterations in images which retain the essential image while frustrating AI-assisted data acquisition. It would I think be rather nice if Adobe could incorporate similar technology as an optional ‘privacy mode’.

Images used above are from My London Diary No War With Iran protest on 4th Jan 2020 opposite Downing St.


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Showing faces II

Thursday, June 11th, 2020

For a rather wider discussion of the issues involved in photographing protests and showing the faces of those taking part, you may like to read On Ethics, The First Amendment, and Photographing Protestors’ Faces by Allen Murabayashi.

It is of course in some respects a very US-centric article, talking about Trump and about the constitution. But I think it makes some of the reasons for the disagreements over the issue clear, and is worth reading.

Murabayashi gives his own opinion in two short paragraphs as the end of the piece:

To me, the real discussion shouldn’t be about the blurring or obscuring of faces, nor gaining consent of a subject. These are tactical choices, and in the U.S. there is simply no expectation of privacy in a public setting.

Instead, we ought to continue to consider how photography is used to portray others (particularly the vulnerable), and whether an image truly advances a story or simply acts as a signifier for the photo we should have taken.

Op cit

The link in the last sentence is to another piece by Murabayashi, The Photographic Phases of Depicting COVID-19, which is also an interesting read.


April Source

Monday, April 27th, 2020

If you are short of reading material for the remaining few days of April, you may find the Winter 2018 issue of Souce, available online until the end of this month, of interest.

Source, subtitled Thinking Through Photography, is a magazine published in Belfast by Photo Works North in cooperation with the Gallery of Photography. The issue which takes a look at privacy as it relates to photography is only available free to view on line until the end of April 2020, though of course subscriptions are available and give access to the current issue as well as a number of back issues including this.

Here’s a little from the magazine introduction to the issue:

“Culturally, our attitude to photographs seems to encompass our contradictory feelings about privacy today. We are increasingly intolerant of being photographed in public but ever more willing to expose ourselves in photographs online. This has political, societal and legal consequences that are explored in our interview with Camille Simon, a picture editor of the French news magazine L’Obs, and Laura Cunningham’s article on the evolving law of privacy.”

https://reader.exacteditions.com/issues/86924/page/1

This edition is available in full online and you can see the first few pages of the current issue which includes a feature on the Art Council’s photography collecting without subscribing.

Source has been published since 1992 and is described as a “a quality quarterly magazine that provides readers with a critical discussion of photographic practice and an appreciation of the importance of photography in the wider culture.”

Photographers recently featured in Source include: Victor Burgin, Hannah Collins, Thomas Joshua Cooper, Sarah Dobai, Richard Gilligan, Emma Hart, Anthony Haughey, John Hilliard, Karen Knorr, Sirkka-Liisa Knottinen, Hew Locke, Mari Mahr, Trish Morrissey, Suzanne Mooney, Wendy McMurdo, Mark Neville, Roger Palmer, Steven Pippin, Paul Seawright, Simon Starling, John Stezaker, Jane and Louise Wilson and Donovan Wylie.

https://shop.exacteditions.com/source

The page cited also includes a similarly long list of writers. It isn’t quite my photographic cup of tea but may appeal to some readers of this post. Again this was mentioned on the British photographic history blog.

Big money

Sunday, November 17th, 2019

Blogger and photojournalist Avi Adelman has just hit the jackpot in the US with a settlement from Dallas Area Rapid Transit system (DART) of $345,000 for his wrongful arrest for criminal trespass when he photographed a person on the ground being treated by paramedics for an overdose at Rosa Parks Plaza, in public in a public place which is DART property. After the arrest he was detained for a day, but a week later the charge was dropped and after an investigation the arresting officer was later disciplined.

You can read the story on Petapixel at Photographer Wins $345K Settlement Over Unlawful Arrest While Taking Pictures.

The arresting officer took action because she beleived that Adelman taking pictures was in breach of the medical privacy law established in the US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). But as Adelman says, “The subjective personal opinions of LEO personnel should never be allowed to interfere with lawful and protected First Amendment activities.

The article states that Adelman considers this settlement “a major win for photojournalists everywhere”, but I think he only means photographers anywhere in the United States. Here we don’t have a written constitution to have a “First Amendment”, and certainly any settlement that might have been reached in the UK over such a case would have been for only a fraction of the amount DART paid.

I don’t think either that there was any great public interest in the pictures that Adelman was taking, and probably police and others here would have attempted to protect the privacy of the unfortunate person being photographed. Unless it was someone in the public eye or the police or paramedics were clearly abusing someone I don’t think I would have wanted to take pictures of this incident in any case.

However taking such pictures would probably also have been legal here, as it was a public event taking place in an area open to the public where there could be no real expectation of privacy. Here it’s more a matter of decency than legality. But some other countries attach more importance to personal privacy and photographers who photograph such events could find themselves paying out rather than raking it in.