Incognito, jewelry by Polish designer Ewa Nowak, is designed to block facial recognition devices. Photo: Instagram

A Polish designer has come up with a radical new way for people to thwart facial recognition technology, with metallic jewelry that people can wear to stay anonymous and avoid being tracked.

This could prove popular in China’s most sensitive regions – such as Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong – or any cities around the world that use Hikvision surveillance cameras.

This design by Ewa Nowak is called Incognito, and was born out of Nowak’s uneasiness about the global state of privacy, according to her website.

Her design – meant to be worn like glasses, with arms reaching around a wearer’s ears – was reportedly tested using Facebook’s DeepFace algorithm to ensure it worked.

Two round pieces of metal cover parts of each cheek and a longer piece extends along the wearer’s nose between the eyes to create three polished objects that help deflect software in security systems and public cameras, or even through social media.

Nowak’s Incognito reportedly won the Mazda Design Award at the Łódź Design Festival. More of her projects, including some that aim to help a person remain anonymous, can be seen on Instagram or via Plain Magazine.

Concern about living in oppressive government surveillance was first drawn to public attention by ‘Enemy of the State’, a prophetic sci-fi film starring Will Smith and Gene Hackman, which was made in 1998.

That scenario has become a real-life concern for citizens in areas such as Xinjiang, the restive province in western China, where a million Uighurs have allegedly been put into institutions to “improve” their attitude to the Han Chinese control of their traditional Muslim society.

Uighurs’ surveillance nightmare

Human Rights Watch said recently that the scale of official monitoring in Xinjiang could be way more extensive than previously thought, as public and national security agencies have installed CCTV and facial scanning and recognition systems in as many as 6.7 million locations, such as mosques, Uighur communities, plus airports and train and bus stations.

The US-based group estimates that more than 2.5 million residents in the western province – about one-tenth of the population – could be watched and tracked on a daily basis by a pervasive matrix of cameras with algorithms that can compare footage against a database of people that are in Beijing’s bad books.

Surveillance systems used in Xinjiang are reportedly made by Hikvision, a Hangzhou-based video security technology firm, which is under the umbrella of the state-owned China Electronics Technology Group.

Hikvision is said to have a stranglehold on the global CCTV business although it has allegedly been blocked by many countries after its ties with the state and role in repressive monitoring of ethnic people in Xinjiang was revealed.

CCTV cameras outside the head office of Hikvision in Hangzhou. Photo: Twitter

The Chinese government is notorious for its sophisticated surveillance apparatus, and evading it can requires equally sophisticated tactics, The Atlantic wrote recently.

Protesters have been wearing surgical masks to hide their faces and keeping their heads under umbrellas. They also use cash when paying for travel around the city.

Over the past month, they’ve also been cutting down lampposts with electric saws and toppling street poles suspected to have facial recognition cameras, it said.

Chris Lau, a reporter for the South China Morning Post, said at least five street poles have been brought down recently amid heightened tensions after three months of protests.

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