Get Outta My Face!: Face Swapping Software and Participant Confidentiality

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A new class of software could solve some of the confidentiality concerns that ethnographers encounter when taking photos of participants -- an issue that I recently pondered.

2008-07-30 face swap.jpg

I conducted a brief stint of fieldwork in Tokyo over the summer and wanted to take photos of my participants using their keitai (cell phones) and/or pasocon (personal computers). One of the issues I "faced," however, was maintaining their confidentiality while taking pictures that were also aesthetically pleasing. This meant that I gravitated towards taking pictures of them while wearing a mask (in a subtle nod to Mishima's Confessions of a Mask) instead of blurring their faces out.

However, there is an interesting and exciting piece of software that can swap out the faces that appear in photographs. The impetus behind the software is to protect the privacy of individuals that are captured in public photographs, such as those that appear on Google Street View.

Unfortunately, it doesn't exist commercially, yet, but it does present an interesting solution to a problem as such.

(Via Boing Boing.)


Interesting! I had seen the article on Boingo Boingo but hadn't thought of it relation to ethnographic photography.

I ask permission for my photos so it's not too relevant for me, but someone like Nathaniel might find it useful as he works with somewhat shadier characters.


Wow. Very StarTrek. Thanks for the update.

I'm a little late to the party, but I couldn't not comment - speaking as a linguist who works on signed languages, this would be a godsend. If I use pictures/video images of people, I can't edit out their faces; it's not a matter of aesthetics, it's a matter of totally altering the grammatical properties of the sign I'm picturing, usually rendering it useless as data.

The BoingBoing commenters seem to think that this is nothing more sophisticated than PhotoShop, but the quality of the substitution, at least in the examples posted, seems better than anything I've seen before. I can actually imagine using this to create plausible-looking anonymous faces. Can't wait until it's available (and especially until it's available for video).

(side note - thumbs-down to the juvenile jeering at BoingBoing re: the gender-blending in the bottom-right photo. *eye roll*)

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This page contains a single entry by Jason C Romero published on July 30, 2008 4:19 PM.

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