Guardian Project: Real Civilian Grade Obfuscation

I have commented on obfuscation and related approaches to hiding on the Internet. (See Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum (2015) for a discussion of the various kinds of “concealment” one might seek [1].) And, of course, a big part of the point of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency is the pseudonomity (sp?) offered by the protocol (“it’s just like gold”).

Much of this work is theoretical and/or obscure, beyond the reach of normal people. And while the propaganda talks about brave whistleblowers, much of the software is clearly designed for black marketeering and other not-particularly-pro-social activities.

A notable exception would be the Guardian Project, seeking to provide software that “can be used around the world by any person looking to protect their communications and personal data from unjust intrusion, interception and monitoring.”

Coming from certified do-gooders (more or less), this suite is designed to actually be useful for whistle blowers equipped with mobile devices, who need to “upload” controversial imagery and reporting.

I haven’t tried all this stuff (luckily, I have never felt the need for such heroic measures—knock on wood), but I like what I see.

I should caution readers that this software is scarcely bulletproof, and will not protect you from a really powerful adversary. (Again, I recommend B&N [1] for a discussion of goals, threats, and the “costs” of technical defenses. It’s complicated.)

But one of their apps is cool, regardless of whether you need or ever use the software for reporting: Obscuracam, “Secure Smart Cam”. Actually, it’s not particularly “secure”, but it does one really cool thing: “automatically detect faces that you can pixelate, redact (blackout) or protect with funny nose and glasses.” Alternately, it will obscure the background, to obscure the context of the video or image.

Actual results:

Obscuracam-ized Selfie, face disguised


Obscuracam-ized Selfie, background disguised

I love this feature! I installed Obscuracam just for the fun of putting Groucho Glasses on faces!

[get Obscuricam here]

Anyway, the GP is definitely worth exploring. But please be careful not to fool yourself into over estimating the effectiveness of this technology.

  1. Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum, Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest, Cambridge, The MIT Press, 2015.

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