Photo Anonymizer App Helps Protect Dissidents, Hide Your Epic Bro-Downs

A new app for Android phones blurs faces, strips metadata, integrates easily into Facebook, and is open source. It's great news for activists and protesters—and also for keg-standing partiers who want to make their photo albums safe for work.

ObscuraCam pic

A new Android application offers hope to two very separate demographics: political dissidents and party animals. Through a clever photoanonymizer, the open-source ObscuraCam automatically blurs the identities of subjects in group photos with a variety of different filters and strips all identifying metadata. Best of all, it is designed to fully integrate with all major Android photo-sending and social media apps.

ObscuraCam is a part of the SecureSmartCam joint project from the Guardian Project, a mobile phone privacy advocacy group, and human rights NGO WITNESS. The current phase of the application, according to a Guardian Project representative, was largely funded by Google.

Users of the application will be able to easily blur the individual faces of people in their group photographs. The software handles both regular pixel-based blurring and several “fun” filters, including giant Groucho Marx glasses. After altering a picture, the app automatically strips all EXIF metadata such as GPS location and camera model and removes the timestamp.

ObscuraCam takes advantage of Android's built-in Face Detection library and algorithm to automatically find faces for obscuring.

According to the Guardian Project, although the app might be fun, the project is about raising awareness about privacy concerns:

The goal of the SecureSmartCam project is to design and develop a new type of smartphone camera app that makes it simple for the user to respect the visual privacy, anonymity and consent of the subjects they photograph or record, while also enhancing their own ability to control the personally identifiable data stored inside that photo or video. Also, we think an app that allows you to pixelize your friends, disguise their faces and otherwise defend their privacy just a little bit, is a lot of fun and helps raise awareness about an important issue.

While the application may be handy for protesters who want to make sure the contents of their signs and the numbers of their crowds reach Facebook and Twitter, it also appeals to social media's natural consistency: Partygoers doing crazy things.

College students, among others, will be happy to see an application that lets them put their wild weekends on social media without unwanted blowback from friends and employees.

Future software releases will also include video-blurirng capabilities along with new functionality designed to focus on photo subjects' “informed consent.” A video-blurring update is expected in several weeks.

Nathan Freitas of the Guardian Project also notes that although there are already several face blurring or masking apps on the market, none are focused on the specific concerns faced by human rights groups, activists, and journalists.

Although it is a fun application, concerns exist. Even with individual faces being blurred, members of a social circle will still be able to figure out who else is in a picture. Intelligence services trying to examine social media evidence will still be able to make informed guesses about who is in a picture through examining an individual's social networks. As the Guardian Project has explicitly stated, the app is designed more to raise awareness of photo privacy concerns than anything else.

But, in the meantime, an app that can blur the faces of the folks doing kegstands and put Groucho Marx glasses on friends and family is still a rather good thing.

[Top Image: The Guardian Project]

For more stories like this, follow @fastcompany on Twitter. Email Neal Ungerleider, the author of this article, here.

[Homepage Image: Flickr user Stinkie Pinkie]

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2 Comments

  • Marketing Mike

    I think the safest way to ensure you're not going to get identified is to simply not put the photos up.

  • Matthew Gleeson

    What I would like to know is whether this technology leaves any traces that it itself has been used- is this then a marker for employers? Also does this have a negative side, the stripping of metadata is costing the Digital Photography millions every year, and artists lose out? Is this now free software that can used to get out of copyright?