With improvements in facial-recognition technology and the increasing popularity of smartphones, the threat to one’s privacy unexpectedly posed by random Internet photos posted by strangers is growing day by day.

To protect against unwanted scrutiny, trading company Nissey Corp., based in Sabae, Fukui Prefecture, has developed a special visor that thwarts electronic facial recognition.

The Privacy Visor consists of a titanium glasses frame with a mesh-like screen one can see through.

Because facial-recognition technology analyzes the shadow patterns around one’s eyes, the design of the visor prevents programs from doing that by reflecting light to those areas, altering the shadows.

It’s not intended to be worn in all situations, however.

“Since the view might not be clear, driving or riding bicycles must be avoided,” when wearing the visor, a Nissey spokesman warned.

The glasses were jointly developed with the National Institute of Informatics, a research institute dedicated to information technology.

Echizen explained that developers in various fields are mainly dwelling on the usefulness of facial recognition technology, rather than its potential downside.

“Your face is the information that identifies you. It’s unstoppable once it’s leaked on the Web, because you can’t change it like a password,” he explained.

The visor is especially useful in popular tourist spots and other places where the chances of being photographed by strangers are high, he said.

Echizen raised a study by Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania in August 2011 that showed how people’s photos can be traced to their social security numbers via facial recognition technology.

The experiment was conducted using a facial recognition tool, cloud computing technology and social media.

Since most of the students on campus used Facebook, researchers took random pictures of students walking by and used the facial recognition technology to compare them with photos on the site.

“The names of about one third of the students were identified,” in this manner, he said.

After the people were identified, their social security numbers were tracked down using a special algorithm developed by the school.

“There are also many free face recognition programs available on the Web that anyone can use,” he added.

While saying the Privacy Visor can block all facial recognition programs, Echizen said it is unlikely to help criminals hide in plain sight.

“During a criminal investigation, security camera footage will be checked with human eyes. The glasses cannot be used to dodge such a process,” he said.

Nissey plans to start selling the Privacy Visor online for ¥36,000 by month’s end.

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