Face swapper software protects privacy


Kevin Kelly writes about software created by Dmitri Bitouk and Neeraj Kumar of Columbia University that "de-indentifies" people in photos to protect their privacy.

Face swapping software finds faces in a photograph and swaps the features in the target face from a library of faces. This can be used to "de-identify" faces that appear in public, such as the faces of people caught by the cameras of Google Street View. So instead of simply blurring the face, the software can substitute random features taken from say Flickr's pool of faces. A mouth here, an eye there.
Face Swapper Privacy (Conceptual Trends and Current Topics)


  1. The little boy in the middle, and the asian guy in the middle seem to have been well disguised. The two ladies on the left, not so much.

  2. I think the software needs some more work, as all it seems to be doing is swapping someones complete face with a different head and making them look like crossdressers.

  3. Neat stuff, and graphic geeks should be sure to check out the original paper.

    Does anybody know if the source is online with this? It would be nice to try out different re-identification techniques and see if any can be made to work.

  4. Cool, though it won’t really give total privacy. Hair, clothing, and height alone would be enough to be able to identify individuals who work or live in a particular area.

    Still, neat.

  5. The pictures at the top of that paper made me laugh, especially the Denzel Washington one labeled “Rank 2”.

    Either Pyros didn’t understand what it did, or I don’t get his/her joke.

    I agree with XXXXX’s comment, although if the only purpose for it is anonymizing faces in something like Google Street View, I guess it’s good enough.

    How does it do with faces not viewed straight on, though? My guess is it can’t.

  6. I really liked the Nixon-Elvis composite in the paper. What if Elvis sang just like Elvis but really looked like that in an alternate universe. Would he have sold a single record?

  7. But what if the result is so gorgeous that its the new ‘it girl’ or ‘it guy’ that is sought after by millions of stalkerati, only to find out such a person doesn’t exist? I mean think of the Stalkerati people!

  8. >>“That last girl really needs to wax that upper lip.”<< That's probably not all she needs to wax.

  9. The best line in the linked article is this:
    “So if you are taking pictures at a birthday party of a group of restless children the software can swap their faces with versions of themselves with better or different expressions (smiles, no red eye) until you get a group picture you like (no one blinking).”

    What a great way to mask the sadness of your dysfunctional family than to create images that pretend your kids still like you!

  10. The idea is good in principle, but the examples here just look like a digital Face/Off (without the mysteriously unexplained “Entire-Body-Structure/Off”).

    The complaint I see here, especially for the bottom dude, is “Why is my face on someone else’s body? My parents are going to think there’s something I should be telling them.”

  11. It has been over 10 years since terraserver provided the same type service as google earth. I wonder how many sites provide satellite photo maps. I’ll go on google and see if terraserver still exists. It was on the NASA site.
    I wonder why the privacy issue took so long to come up. I found my driveway from space on terraserver in 1995 using my 486. Also, it is worth noting that according to the Supreme Court (and common sense) when you are in public your privacy rights are very restricted. This face defacing software is totally irrelevant as a privacy thing once you step into the street (or any other public place). It might even spark lawsuits from folks claiming the legitimate right to accurate pictures of public places, including the individuals present at the time.

  12. Let’s pick this guy here, and mix him up with that guy over there…. uh uh
    dang @ #21 beat me to it, lol
    cool technology, and here today someone at the liquor store in front of me this guy got an earful of “they should give that American Express photo ID” by the lady cashier.
    Is it beneficial to hide the fact you are somewhere with respect to privacy? It masks a greater issue of your ass on tape in the first place. I don’t see the immediate benefit to using this technology ‘publicly’ to de-identify anyone.

  13. I bet the inventors were watching Conan O’Brien “If they mated” segment when they came up with this idea, lol

  14. “Hey, the guy walking outside my girlfriend’s apartment was wearing the same Homestar Runner T-shirt as you. But she told me she didn’t have a brother. And I thought if there were two albinos living in this neighborhood, you two would have met by now.”

  15. The only thing I could think of when I read this article was the identity-masking suits that the “agents” wear in “A Scanner Darkly.” Did anyone else think the same thing?

    I must have been one of maybe three or four people in the world (or so it seems) to have seen the movie. Though I generally like P.K. Dick, and I really liked the experimental / “uncanny” cross between animation and live action style, I felt the movie didn’t work very well.

  16. Naturally this wouldn’t work very well if the database of faces that the program was using became public.

    It would be pretty easy, given the database of faces, to run through the list to get the one that was used in the merge, and the un-merge it to get the original face.

    Anyway, it’s a neat party trick (though not at all new). I had a photo on my fridge five years ago of me and my housemate’s “kid” (i.e. what it might look like if we were to impossibly mate) done via the same process.

  17. I want this! But it looks like there’s no actual software we can use yet. Just a research paper. A useful paper, with good analysis of how this can be done and what can and cannot be done. But I’d prefer a usable program. :) Thanks #6 Nick for the link to the full paper.

    #31 SamSam, you can’t “reveal” the original face cause it’s not “under” the fake face. jpg files only have one layer.

    #11 trr, did you see how its weird that Nixon still looked like Nixon, even with Elvis’s face?

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