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The Anti-Facebook Mask

Be invisible. Or, at least, fool Facebook for Halloween.

Posted on September 28, 2012, at 11:13 a.m. ET

It's no secret that Facebook (and the U.S. government and god-knows-who-else) use facial recognition technology to, among other things, scan uploaded images, spot bad guys in a crowd and help you tag photos from your last rager. Many people might be only dimly aware of this Facebook feature, but it's a default setting: If you don't want the company to use facial recognition technology on you, you can opt out. But how to escape the digital Eye of Sauron everywhere else? Well, there's this lovely mask, just in time for Halloween.

These lovely, limited edition pieces are made by a German artist, Martin Backes, who is selling them on his website as well as showing them as an installation. His purpose was to raise awareness about the downsides of social media tools —"the definition of the term “anonymity” will change as surveillance increases more and more."

He describes the construction of the mask as follows:

The material used is elastic fabric for beach fashion and sports gear with a Pixel-style print of the German Secretary of the Interior Hans-Peter Friedrich. The mask has holes for your eyes and mouth, so you can see and breathe comfortably while wearing.

The thinking behind the mask is pretty straightforward — the mask, or any mask, really, has the power to thwart facial recognition. And it's no coincidence that a German artist would be pondering this issue: Europe, in particular Germany, has led the way in rejecting facial recognition. Just this week, Facebook agreed to delete all the facial info it has on its European users, a measure that has been suggested in the United States as well.

As a practical matter, Facebook users looking to thwart the software (created by an Israeli company called bought by Facebook in June) can't really undo the damage done by past pictures they have already been tagged in. But tagging yourself in shots with hats can confuse the system, as can tagging yourself as a non-human in Facebook pictures, as a privacy expert told me earlier this year. These masks might be more of a political statement than privacy solution, but they are undeniably more stylish than putting a paper bag over your head. Appropriately, the made-to-order limited edition pieces are payable with that most private of currencies, BitCoin. Go here for more info.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.