Last September, the world welcomed Juggalos (or Juggalettes, depending on which you prefer) to The Resistance when they marched on Washington en masse to protest the policies of the Trump administration. As if they weren’t already doing the absolute most, the die-hard fans of the rap group Insane Clown Posse have become accidental heroes for people concerned about facial recognition tech: According to Twitter user @tahkion, a computer science blogger for WonderHowTo, Juggalo makeup outmatches the machine learning algorithms that govern facial recognition technology.
i made a breakthrough. it turns out juggalo makeup defeats facial recognition successfully. if you want to avoid surveillance, become a juggalo i guess pic.twitter.com/kEh7fUQeXq— TAKHION (@tahkion) July 1, 2018
In a series of follow-up tweets, @tahkion explained that facial recognition works by pinpointing the areas of contrast on a human face—for instance, where a nose is located, or where the chin becomes the neck. As it happens, juggalo makeup often involves applying black paint below the mouth, but above the chin. That makes facial recognition vulnerable to misidentifying the placement of the jaw.
for anyone wondering why some face changes evade facial recognition and others don't, here's a visualization of how landmarks are placed on a few examples. juggalo makeup is particularly effective as it basically totally redefines what is interpreted as the jawline pic.twitter.com/dFSx5FEGc9— TAKHION (@tahkion) July 1, 2018
You might be thinking: “Well, if Juggalos constantly wear this makeup, wouldn’t the facial recognition technology just continually recognize their Juggalo faces?” According to @tahkion, that depends on the Juggalo consistently wearing the same style of makeup. This problem also assumes that Juggalos wear their makeup all the time—which they don’t. The style is reserved for Insane Clown Posse shows and other special occasions, like the March on Washington.
Face-painting styles like “corpse” makeup also obscure the face. However, they don’t create enough contrast to effectively confuse most facial recognition systems. Dramatic styles of feminine makeup, like heavy eyeliner, also are generally not enough to confuse facial recognition systems, @tahkion claims. However, facial recognition tech such as Apple's Face ID, which does not rely on visible light and uses depth perception, would not be tricked by juggalo makeup (otherwise it would never work in the dark).
People are constantly trying to come up with ways to work around facial recognition technology using everything from rigged hats (if you’re out in public) to heavy pixelation (if you’re online). Groups such as CVDazzle have tried to bring art into the effort to defeat facial recognition with art, using dramatic, futuristic styles of makeup—but @tahkion claimed CV Dazzle doesn’t always obscure the face as well as Juggalo makeup.
Facial recognition is already in broad use by law enforcement. This past week, the FBI used facial recognition to identify the man who opened fire on the offices of Maryland newspaper Capital Gazette, killing five people. But use of facial recognition is largely unregulated. Amazon’s “Rekognition” tool has been piloted in the Orlando, FL and Washington County, OR police departments, and the company is looking to expand its use. Private companies like Moscow-based NtechLab have developed “ethnicity recognition” tools with the intention for it to be used by law enforcement to, in essence, automate racial profiling. This isn’t just happening in the U.S.: in China, facial recognition is used to monitor citizen activity as a part of its extensive “social credit” system, which affects people’s ability to get loans and use certain public services, like bike rentals.
On sites like Facebook, facial recognition technology been used for years to identify people in photos, suggest user tags, and perhaps prevent the unauthorized use of a photo. (If you delete your Facebook account, it remains unclear when or if all user data—including facial recognition tools for a person—is deleted.)
To be very clear, The Outline is not endorsing the creation of a Juggalo-makeup powered society that strives to avoid the utilization of facial data at all costs, even as we come to terms with the implicit bias embedded in the technology. But… Juggalos… Welcome (Back) to The Resistance.