CV dazzle, crypto-anarchism: Play scrabble with new data security terms
The changing nature of surveillance has spawned a host of new phrases that help capture the flux, and nearcast what we might expect to see next. Take a look.
How do we tell where we are in an evolving landscape? New terms act as milestones, signposts, warnings of danger ahead. The changing nature of surveillance has spawned a host of new phrases that help capture the flux, and nearcast what we might expect to see next. Take a look.
Open-source intelligence or OSINT: This is the term for the procurement and use of publicly available data such as Instagram posts and e-commerce transaction details, now being accessed by law-enforcement agencies (as well as researchers, journalists, and other categories of data analysts and consumers).
OSINT is an extension of dataveillance, a term coined in the 1980s, by an Australian consultant on information technology policy named Roger Clarke.
Clarke came up with the term, he says on his website, to underline the shift from the physical and electronic surveillance of individuals to the relatively cheaper “surveillance of people’s behaviour through the increasingly intensive data trails that their behaviour was generating”.
Between our financial and professional transactions (salary, work, investments), online purchases, social-media activity and government identities (think travel and tax records, student projects, medical records, biometrics), that is a rich, overlapping tapestry of detail. And, say it with us now, there simply isn’t enough clarity on who may access which folders, who might stop or monitor them, or why.
Surveillance capitalism: In her book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (2018), American academic and social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff, who coined the term, charts how Big Tech companies such as Alphabet and Meta first convinced us to give up our data for security and convenience, and how that data now powers an advertising economy driven by mass surveillance of the internet.
Wearables, smart home devices, smart cars, digital toys, and of course our phones, provide regular updates to the algorithms at work. “At its core, surveillance capitalism is parasitic and self-referential. It revives Karl Marx’s old image of capitalism as a vampire that feeds on labour but with an unexpected turn. Instead of labour, surveillance capitalism feeds on every aspect of every human experience,” Zuboff says in the book.
Soft surveillance: This is the term for that feeling you have when you click “I agree”, that no one significant is really watching. Who would care what you do on a fashion portal, streaming platform or ride-hailing app?
As things stand, soft monitoring or soft surveillance yields much of the personal digital data in use today. It’s entirely voluntary; immensely vast; and it is official data that can eventually be used to piece together a person’s day, identity, habits. Many users treat the “I agree” pop-up window like a casual handshake between two people exchanging information. It might help to think of it more like the signs in public spaces that say: “This area is under CCTV surveillance”.
Computer-vision dazzle: Asymmetrical hair extensions, shimmery face paint, stick-on jewels… computer-vision dazzle, also called anti-surveillance makeup, is a camouflage technique that seeks to confuse computer-vision algorithms.
It was created by Berlin-based artist, software engineer and applied researcher Adam Harvey, as part of his Master’s thesis at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program in 2010.
Harvey created a series of test looks that alter the strategic points of a face that algorithms tend to plot and read. Over the years, he has updated the original set of looks he created, targeting the specific vulnerabilities of evolving algorithms.
Others have added to them, with looks that include paint that breaks up the natural symmetry of the face; rhinestones to conceal the bridge of the nose; and face paint that contrasts with one’s natural skin tone. “The name of the project was inspired by WWI ship camouflage called Dazzle that used Cubist-inspired designs to break apart the visual continuity of a battleship in order to conceal its orientation and size,” he says on his website.
The hacks have spawned a bit of a movement. In London, the Dazzle Club, 2019- 2021 was a project by artists Anna Hart, Evie Price, Georgina Rowlands and Emily Roderick who conducted silent walks to protest the police force’s facial-recognition cameras. On Instagram, the hashtags #cvdazzle and #antisurveillancemakeup lead to threads on how to prepare for a heavily surveilled protest.
CV dazzle has also extended into stealth fashion: Prints, fabrics and accessories are being designed to act as armour in the battle to remain unseen. Perhaps best-known among these is HyperFace, a black-and-white textile print prototype created by Adam Harvey of computer-vision dazzle, with the design studio Hyphen-Labs. When scanned by computer vision, the print reveals multiple false faces, distracting and confusing the algorithm and reducing the confidence or accuracy score of facial-recognition software.
Stealth wear needn’t be so hi-tech. Hacks circulating on social-media platforms explain that simple lace can obscure features enough for one to be unrecognisable, for instance, in a protesting crowd. Another trick: dress in the colours of the protest’s flag.
Crypto-anarchism: Could a computer-based network eventually protect identities, so securely that it would never give them up? Crypto-anarchism builds on the fact that this is already happening to a degree, in the world of cryptocurrency, and could potentially be extended to offer end-to-end privacy protection to the online citizen.
Crypto-anarchist organisations, such as the Prague-based non-profit Paralelní Polis (Czech for Parallel State) envision a world in which digital censorship and surveillance would be replaced by a decentralised economy that would operate as freely as bitcoin currently does. The details, admittedly, are not yet clear.