Hiding a person by pixelating their face? Computer system says don't bother

identifying pixelated faces algorithm deep learning
Everyone is familiar with the standard method for obscuring a person’s identity in a news article or video, which frequently involves blurring or pixelating their face to render them unrecognizable.

The good news? They are still unrecognizable to the overwhelming majority of people. The bad news? They don’t fool modern computer science.

That information is according to a new project carried out by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Cornell University, which used deep learning to correctly guess the redacted identities of people hidden by obfuscation. While human guessed redacted identities correctly 0.19 percent of the time, the machine learning system was able to make a correct judgment with 83-percent accuracy, when allowed five attempts.

“Blurring and pixelation are often used to hide people’s identities in photos and videos,” Vitaly Shmatikov, a professor of computer science at Cornell, told Digital Trends. “In many of these scenarios, the adversary has a pretty good idea of a small set of possible people who could have appeared in the image, and he just needs to figure out which of them are in the picture.”

This, Shmatikov continued, is exactly the scenario where the team’s technology works well. “This shows that blurring, pixelation, and other image obfuscation methods may not provide much protection when exposing someone’s identity would put them at risk,” he said.

The challenge, of course, is that often such methods of redacting a person’s identity are used to protect a person, such as a whistleblower or a witness to a crime. By applying such image recognition algorithms, based on artificial neural networks, to images that have therefore been obfuscated using off-the-shelf tools, people could potentially be placed in harm’s way.

“The fundamental challenge is bridging the gap between privacy protection technologies and machine learning,” Shmatikov said. “Many designers of privacy technologies don’t fully appreciate the power of modern machine learning — and this leads to technologies that don’t actually protect privacy.”

Gaming

From PUBG to Apex Legends, this is how battle royale happened

Battle royale games like PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds’ and Fortnite have become the biggest trend in video games. The genre is also pushing the envelope in Twitch streaming and eSports.
Mobile

Flex your thumbs (and your brain) with these fun texting games

Gaming consoles keep getting more advanced, but you can still have fun with the good old Latin alphabet. Here are our picks for the best texting games, so you can make the most fun out of that limited data plan or basic cell phone.
Product Review

What do you do with 187 megapixels? The Lumix S1R is glorious overkill

The Lumix S1R is one of the most capable cameras ever made, from its robust build to extensive feature set. But its key feature, a 187MP high resolution mode, is something few customers will have use for.
Gaming

Last gen had some hits! Take a look at the best PS3 games of all time

Choosing the right PlayStation 3 game can be a conundrum, especially when there are nearly 1,500 titles to choose from. Thankfully, we've rounded up the best games to have ever made it to the platform.
Emerging Tech

A 3D printer the size of a small barn will produce entire homes in Saudi Arabia

If you’re looking for a 3D printer that can comfortably fit on the side of your desk… well, Danish company Cobod International’s enormous new 3D house printer probably isn’t for you.
Deals

Need a ride? Amazon is slashing prices on popular electric scooters

If you’re not much of a cyclist or if you’re looking for a lazier way to zip about town, an electric scooter should be right up your alley. Two of our favorites, the foldable Glion Dolly and the eco-friendly Razor scooter, are on sale…
Emerging Tech

Unexpected particle plumes discovered jetting out of asteroid Bennu

The OSIRIS-REx craft traveled to asteroid Bennu last year and won't return until 2023. But the mission is already throwing up unexpected findings, like plumes of particles which are being ejected from the surface of the asteroid.
Emerging Tech

Trip to Neptune’s moon, Triton, could inform search for extraterrestrial life

NASA has proposed sending a craft to Neptune to study its largest moon, Triton. Studying Triton could offer clues to how liquid water is maintained on planets, which may indicate what to look for when searching for life beyond our planet.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover passes its tests with flying colors

The Mars 2020 rover team has been undertaking a series of tests to see if the craft will be able to launch, navigate, and land on the Red Planet. Called Systems Test 1, or ST1, these tests represent the first test drive of the new rover.
Outdoors

Light up the night! Here are the five best headlamps money can buy

Headlamps make all the difference when camping or walking the dog at night, especially when you're in need of both hands. From Petzl to Tikkid, here are some of the best headlamps on the market.
Emerging Tech

A hive of activity: Using honeybees to measure urban pollution

According to a new study from Vancouver, bees could help us understand urban pollution. Scientists have found an innovative way to measure the level of source of pollution in urban environments: by analyzing honey.
Emerging Tech

Spacewalk a success as astronauts upgrade batteries on the ISS

The International Space Station was treated to some new batteries on Friday, thanks to two NASA astronauts who took a spacewalk for nearly seven hours in order to complete the upgrades.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robotic companions and computer-aided karaoke

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Asteroid Ryugu is porous, shaped like a spinning top, and is formed of rubble

The Japanese Space Agency has been exploring a distant asteroid named Ryugu with its probe, Hayabusa 2. Now the first results from study of the asteroid are in, with three new papers published.