The Fawkes is a free, open source software that uses artificial intelligence to subtly modify your photos to trick face recognition software.
Well-known face recognition poses a serious threat to privacy. The idea that the photos you share on the internet are collected by algorithm training companies, which in turn are sold commercially, is quite disturbing. Theoretically anyone can buy these tools, take a picture of a stranger and find out who they are in seconds.
Worse still, such a huge base could be rented as a service provider with the help of a fast wireless GSM internet, like the 5G that is coming, to be able to see online the name of each person who passes by you.
Although we are still far from such an ominous situation, researchers have already started the cat-mouse game. One solution to face recognition is a tool called Fawkes and was created in the Sand Lab of the University of Chicago. It was named Fawkes from Guy's masks Fawkes worn by the revolutionaries, in the film V for Vendetta.
The Fawkes software uses artificial intelligence to alter your photos, in a subtle and almost imperceptible way, to trick facial recognition systems.
See for example the following photo of Queen Elizabeth, with the left one being normal and the right one being "teased".
The way the software works is a bit complicated and the passage of your photos through it Fawkes does not make you invisible in face recognition. Instead, the software makes subtle changes to your photos so that any algorithm that scans these images in the future will see you as a different person. Essentially, his surgery Fawkes in your photos is like adding an invisible mask to your selfies.
Its creators call this process "cloaking" and rely on destroying points that face recognition systems read and rely on. They cite the example of the face recognition company Clearview AI, which claims that has collected about three billion images of people from sites like Facebook, YouTube and Venmo, and which he uses to identify strangers. But according to its manufacturers Fawkes, if the photos you share on the Internet have been "teased" through it Fawkes, then the person who will be in the database and who will be able to recognize the algorithm will not actually be yours.
According to the University of Chicago team, the Fawkes is 100% successful against state-of-the-art face recognition services, such as Microsoft (Azure Face), Amazon (Recognition) and the Face ++ of the Chinese company Megvii.
The six-member team behind it Fawkes, Shawn Shan, Emily Wenger, Jiayun Zhang, Huiying Li, Haitao Zheng and Ben Y. Zhao, published in early 2020 a task for its algorithm. At the end of last month it was also released Fawkes as free software for windows and mac that anyone can download and use. To date it is said to have descended more than 100.000 times.
The Fawkes it is easy to use and takes a few minutes to process each image and the changes it makes are mostly imperceptible.
But it is Fawkes the general solution for privacy? It is doubtful.
For a start, there is the problem of adoption. If you read this article and decide to use it Fawkes to hide any photos you upload to social media in the future, you will definitely be in the minority. Face recognition is a concern because it is a trend aimed at the whole society and so the solution should be used by the whole society. If know-how protects the selfies of certain users, it simply creates inequality and discrimination.
Second, many companies that sell face recognition algorithms have been creating face databases for a long time and you cannot retrieve this information retrospectively. Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That told the Times that "there are billions of unmodified photos on the Internet, all in different social media." In practice, it may be too late to perfect a technology such as Fawkes, and to develop it on a global scale.
Of course, in the opposite of the above claims the team behind it Fawkes disagrees. They note that although companies like Clearview claim to have billions of photos, that does not mean much, even when they are supposed to be recognized by hundreds of millions of users. Chances are, Clearview has only a very small number of publicly accessible photos. And if people upload more photos from the past in the future Fawkes, sooner or later the amount of "teased" images will exceed normal.
The team Fawkes admits that in order for their software to make a difference, it needs to be released more widely. They have no plans to create a web application or a mobile app, but hope that companies like Facebook to integrate in the future in their platform, a technology similar to Fawkes.
The integration of this technology would be in the interest of these companies, says Zhao. After all, companies like Facebook people do not want to stop sharing photos and as long as face recognition companies are still able to collect the data they need from public images, the use of technology is deemed necessary Fawkes. And while the integration of this technology at the moment may have only a small effect, for current users, it could help future generations to sign up on these platforms without fear.
“Adoption by larger platforms, e.g. the Facebook or else, it could over time negatively affect Clearview, making their technology so inefficient that it will no longer be useful or cost-effective as a service, ”says Zhao.