back to article LowKey cool: This web app will tweak your photos to flummox facial-recognition systems, apparently

A group of computer scientists has released a privacy-focused web application to poison people's online images so they confuse commercial facial recognition systems. The application, called LowKey, is intended to protect people from unauthorized surveillance. It's based on an adversarial attack technique developed by …

  1. DS999 Silver badge

    OK, but

    People won't use it if it makes them look like they have skin problems. If they can make it work with little or no visual difference to the human eye, then they'll have something. Not sure if that's possible or not, though.

    1. Rol

      Re: OK, but

      Move your eyes 0.3 mm closer, stretch your face by 1 mm, widen your smile 0.5 mm and no one, not even your closest friends, will notice the difference. Facial recognition however will be totally stumped.

      1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

        Re: OK, but

        Did you look at the full size photos? The woman on the right is particularly badly hit.

        1. nintendoeats Silver badge

          Re: OK, but

          If by badly hit you mean completely terrifying 0_0

      2. The Mole

        Re: OK, but

        Until of course the facial recognition AI is trained with a training set containing this permutations and so learns how to recognise people in a way more similar to the human brain (although probably with a corresponding drop in accuracy).

  2. Lucy in the Sky (with Diamonds)


    The way I see it, the underlying problem is people wanting to post their likeness online. Not counting FaceBook, on every online account I use the default outline icon as my profile picture, but FaceBook being what it is, I do actually put up a real picture of myself on all my accounts, albeit not using my real name for any of them, nor do I associate my FaceBook accounts with anyone I actually hang out with in real life. Call me paranoid and all that. The trick is to use a full figure photo, from a distance at a low enough resolution to make facial recognition irrelevant. But, I feel justified, because to (somewhat mis)quote from the Oliver Stone film JFK “…if they can kill the President of the United States, do you think they would think twice about doing a two bit nobody like me?”

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: JFK

      HI Lucy itswd,

      I think you're addressing the wrong problem with your post, It's not specifically profile pictures being targeted, it's any image on social media.

      I'd say your defence is not worth the time it took you to type it.

      And If you've got a FB account all your information is already drifting in the wind for anyone with a suitable net to capture.

      1. Lucy in the Sky (with Diamonds)

        Re: JFK

        Perhaps, I should have mentioned, that I have only ever posted the five profile pictures for the five accounts under the imaginary names that I intend to use on a rainy day. The idea being, that one day, I would like to be someone else, and some clever person will search for that someone else on social media and lo and behold, there it will be. Besides those profile pictures, I have never posted anything anywhere ever… But yes, you are quite correct, those FaceBook accounts exist precisely for someone to capture, because they think that they are clever. For instance, if I ever travel to a restrictive country that insists on demanding handing over social media accounts, well, I already have some to hand over…

        1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

          Re: JFK

          the five profile pictures for the five accounts under the imaginary names that I intend to use on a rainy day

          "Why didn't I think of that". Says a recent retiree to Palm Springs who is bereft of his long standing social media accounts

      2. Cuddles

        Re: JFK

        "It's not specifically profile pictures being targeted, it's any image on social media."

        Even that isn't quite accurate - it's any image, full stop. Social media might be one of the bigger sources of pictures of people these days, but it's stil far from the only source. This site has covered in great detail the lengths the likes of Facebook and Google (and they're certainly not the only ones) go to to track people all over the internet, regardless of persmission to do so, and regardless if they even have an account with the company in question.

        That's why it's such a big problem. It doesn't matter how paranoid you are about how you set up your profile pictures, but it also doesn't matter how careful you are about what pictures you post at all. As long as other people might be posting pictures of you somewhere, your face is getting into these tracking and recognition systems. You might not have a Facebook account, but have any of your friends ever posted a photo on theirs? Has your face ever appeared in a news article, a company photo, or anything similar? It doesn't matter whether you have a Facebook account or not, your face is on the internet somewhere, and Facebook, along with many others, have already scraped it and filed it away in your permanent record.

  3. LenG


    If the test database is made of genuine images, where do they come from? On the other hand, if it is made of Lowkey'd images can it match those against other Lowkey'd images of the same person? Or does Lowkey apply a different change to an image every time it encounters it. Not that I really care as I never put my image on a profile anyway.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Looks a lot…

    … like my low tech version of only having my picture taken after a boxing match.

  5. Securitymoose

    Why do people put any personal information on social media that they don't expect to be shared?

    People must be aware that everything they post potentially becomes public domain, therefore they must intend that anything they post be shared with the wider world (facial recognition or other data harvesting). Totally free advertising for the 'victim', if truth be told. Thank you, Social Media, from us struggling artists.

    1. Mike 137 Silver badge

      "everything they post potentially becomes public domain"

      Not exactly. "Public domain" ia a rights category. Anything you post potentially becomes visible to the public, which is not the same thing.

    2. Paul Kinsler

      Re: People must be aware

      I'm inclined to believe they *are* aware, but just tend not to understand the potential consequences. I.e. they think things like "no one besides my friends etc will be interested in my stuff", and "the chance of anyone bothering to pick on me is tiny". Such beliefs were reasonable for most of human history, but not today when low-cost automated trawling means that lots of dubious actors can afford to examine, then copy, re-use, or abuse a significant fraction of the stuff posted.

  6. Natalie Gritpants Jr

    I look like the people in the bottom row

    Can it tweak my photos to make them look like the top row?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I look like the people in the bottom row

      Ha ha, as another that naturally sports a pre-lowkey'd visage I wondered this too. Mind you if all it takes to fool these systems is to squeeze out a bit of a 5 o'clock shadow, perhaps the situation's not so dismal after all.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    How old is that photo of Tom Hanks?! He hasn't looked like that for ages.

  8. David Gosnell

    Reverse the example images...

    ... and they could be "before and after" samples for a top plastic surgeon specialising in acid attack victims.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Manual is more work, but better is avoiding..

    @Rol is right: a bit of work and it will ruin facial recognition but still look OK.

    However, it depends on your character. I have been online from before Sir Tim Berners-Lee came up with the whole URL thing, and many years later I still have not found a valid argument for a personal glory page - it's just not me. In the unlikely case the urge would catch up with me, however, I shall rely on to generate a face instead of my own.

    I wish you all a nice and well imbibed weekend :).

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