Student Inventors Take on Facial Recognition and Privacy

This article was originally printed in the Summer 2021 issue of Views from the Hill.

Did you know that the United States has the most surveillance cameras per capita in the world, ahead of China and Russia? Were you aware that if you have a driver’s license, passport, or government-issued I.D., your photo is likely already in a police database? Would you feel comfortable knowing there are companies scouring the internet for photos of you and selling their collected data to anyone willing to pay?

Recent Hopkins graduates Evan Alfandre ’21 and Will McCormack ’21 were not okay with it. Will had spent the summer abroad in Beijing, China, after his sophomore year, and during his stay, observed the number of surveillance cameras everywhere. It made him realize that individual privacy was being encroached upon. Evan and Will had partnered up for their independent project for HARPS (Hopkins Authentic Research Program in Science) during their junior year, and decided to take on the growing problem of privacy and facial recognition software for that project. The duo researched what was being produced in the industry of wearable facial distortion innovations, and found most of those solutions complicated, costly, and even ineffective. Through HARPS, Evan and Will connected with Professor Isao Echizen of the Japanese National Institute of Informatics, a leading researcher in the field of information security, content security, and privacy. Echizen gained international recognition in 2015 when he developed a pair of privacy glasses that use light to interfere with facial recognition software. His mentorship helped Evan and Will develop a simple and effective solution: the Invisiclip, a universal clip-on that attaches to sunglasses or eyeglasses. The Invisiclip is a 3D-printed plastic rectangle attached to a generic glasses clip-on. When worn, the Invisiclip covers the wearer’s nose, and renders them undetectable to all facial recognition software, both infrared and visible light technologies.

“We wanted to create something that was cheaper and easy to reproduce,” said Evan, “as well as something less invasive to wear.” Through trial and error, they tested different materials in various colors and reflectivity, as well as what placement on the face was most effective. Their research led them to the conclusion that to block a wearer’s nose is the most effective way to render them unrecognizable to any software.

Changes to privacy policy on a government level is one way to address this problem, but not necessarily attainable in all countries worldwide. Both Evan and Will are more interested in returning power over their own image to the individual, to “reclaim personal liberties by democratizing technology.”

After developing their Invisiclip prototype, they sought out companies who shared their mission. Facial recognition was widely used in 2020 to track people who attended protests, and activist organizations have been fighting back in Congress to change policy. Evan and Will reached out to the group Fight for the Future, among others, who were the first to respond. Fight for the Future was impressed with Evan and Will’s product and mission, and partnered with them to distribute and sell the Invisiclip on their website for several months, as well as educate their members on the benefits of facial-blocking devices.

So far, Evan and Will have obtained a provisional patent for the Invisiclip and are pursuing a full patent. They are still making the Invisiclip themselves, with the help of Price Connolly ’24 and his 3D printer. The two plan to continue spreading their mission, and handy personal protection devices, as they move on to college in the fall. 

If you'd like to order your own Invisiclip, they can be purchased for $25 by emailing invisiclip@gmail.com, or via Instagram DM @invisclip. 
Back