When you’ve got a protest at 5 but Berghain at 9
Last month, researchers in the US developed a t-shirt designed to confuse digital surveillance algorithms into thinking you don’t exist. It’s a near-perfect solution to protect you from intrusive and potentially dangerous facial recognition technology. Except there’s one problem: it’s ugly AF. Now, for those who have a penchant for privacy and fashion, designer Phoebe Heess has you covered.
Heess has created a sleek black unisex visor called The Sportlens, which can be used for outdoor activities including sports and festivals, and will protect wearers from harmful ultraviolet radiation. It also, most importantly, shields you from facial recognition cameras.
Made out of soft, scuba material, the visor wraps around the wearer’s head and features an adjustable drawstring to secure it, as well as almost-mirrored glasses that cover the eyes but don’t obstruct your peripheral vision.
Speaking to Dazed, Phoebe Heess co-founder Gabriel Platt says the brand tested the visor with commercial technology similar to police cameras, “and they couldn’t get a match”. He goes on to explain: “The algorithm will have problems defining the mesh overlay it’s creating when half the face is covered. Even if the algorithm can make out the eyes, the refraction of the lens will distort the results.”
The visor is the latest in a line of creations by Heess which combine fashion and technology. Designing exclusively in black to highlight the technological aspects of her work, Heess brings together sportswear performance cutlines with hi-tech materials and wearables. She previously created a black t-shirt – as part of her Vampireblack collection – which doesn’t heat up when worn in the sun.
This isn’t the first time the fashion industry has honed in on the dangers of surveillance. In 1995, cult brand Vexed Generation – which returned last year – responded to the increase in CCTV by designing a line of clothing that used tactical fabrics and hoods to provide near-anonymithy. The beauty industry is also fighting against facial recognition with make-up looks and Juggalo clown faces.
Platt believes these urgent designs will become more commonplace as privacy decreases. “Privacy online will probably get easier through quantum encryption,” he explains, “but privacy in the meat space will successively diminish. There are already cameras on drones the size of a fly, and the Internet of Things will connect and power all these future cameras and sensors. We really need to talk and act against this.”
Facial recognition technology was recently used by authorities during the Black Lives Matter protests, though Silkie Carlo, the director of UK-based civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, told Dazed that using this type of tech at peaceful demonstrations is “an outrage”. Find out how to protect yourself from surveillance at marches here.