Today, many of us are more careful than before about protecting our privacy online: denying permission to track cookies, browsing in private or with VPNs, locking social media accounts assemblies (or delete them altogether). Few of us are taking steps to counter the way we are surveyed in real life, but Scott Urban is one of them. (He requested to be interviewed by email — specifically, via ProtonMail, the security-focused email service of choice — rather than by phone or videoconference, so he could not be recorded. )
Urban is the creator Reflectacles, which looks like regular sunglasses but is designed to protect the wearer’s identity from prying digital eyes. Glasses solve a major problem with anti-surveillance “wearables” — that they often look odd or unappealing (like this T-shirt render the wearer invisible with artificial intelligence surveillance technologies) and may themselves attract unwanted attention.
Urban started designing eyewear in 2005, crafting custom frames from wood. After a decade, he’s ready to move on. “Mainly due to timing,” he said. He was also interested in the idea of making glasses that could confuse surveillance cameras.
Urban’s original Kickstarter campaign featured two models of sunglasses. The more basic model, the IR-Pair, has lenses that block infrared radiation, rendering the infrared camera unreadable to the wearer’s eyes, and facial recognition technology that converts infrared data, or thermal symbols, into electronic images. (It’s currently available in two colors tortoiseshell as well as black.)
The other model, the Phantom, has the same IR lens but also has a layer of glass microbeads applied to its frame. These lights reflect infrared light available at technologies that use infrared for mapping or illumination, distorting the thermal signature of the wearer’s face. The Phantom still looks harmless as its frame is clearly non-reflective. Visible light cannot penetrate its outer infrared permeable layer to reach the reflective layer below, so to the human eye the Phantom looks like a normal pair of black-framed sunglasses.
A model – and splasher – called the Ghost, on the other hand, reflects both visible and infrared light, maintaining the wearer’s privacy in flash photos or videos. Urban also now offers clamp and wrap-around versions of the Phantom, as well as the IR-Shield, a pair of frameless glasses with IR-blocking lenses. This is the model that Urban wears himself.
The reflector comes with a light or dark IR lens. They cost between $48 and $188, depending on the model, and you can also order prescription lenses.
While the glasses look like regular IRL glasses, they are not on the camera. For example, Urban’s local bar owner told Urban his head became a “glow” on the bar’s video feeds and asked him to stop wearing them once inside. Urban complied because he didn’t want to fight (he was thrown out a few times for other misdeeds). However, when asked if people would be banned if they wear Reflectacles, the owner could not give a definitive answer.
It’s not clear how people can ban Reflectacles – they’re really just sunglasses. The FDA has required Class 3 sunglasses lenses (standard dark lenses) to block light with wavelengths less than 400 nm, which lies at the upper end of the spectrum between visible and ultraviolet light. The reflector is doing a similar thing, just on the other side of the line, something uncorrected. To do so, a clear distinction must be made between traditional (and acceptable) sunglasses lenses and lenses that prevent biometric data from being collected.
Urban has registered Reflectacles with the FDA, which is currently classifying sunglasses and other glasses as medical devices; This means people don’t have to take them off when asked. Urban notes that wearers tend to take them off at airport security anyway because it’s easier to obey authority. “It’s sad,” he said, “but it’s reality.”
He doesn’t see Reflectacles as a form of radical protest against government or big tech. “We signed our privacy rights,” he said.
https://www.artnews.com/art-news/artists/reflectacles-privacy-eyewear-1234613717/ Reflectacles privacy eyewear – ARTnews.com