Forbes Privacy Wearables
Forget Glass. Here Are Wearables That Protect Your Privacy. on Forbes by Kashmir Hill:
Clothing has historically played an important role in protecting our privacy, namely by covering up our “private parts.” But it can do even more to protect us. At hacker conference Hope X, designer Becky Stern of Adafruit gave a whirlwind tour of “disruptive wearable technology” — “disruptive” not in the Silicon Valley “oh-my-god-the-iWatch-is-coming” sense but in that it interferes with people’s attempts to invade your physical and virtual space. Instead of defending against lances and swords, this modern armor promises to thwart surveillance cameras, TSA agents, drone strikes, subway crowding, and cellular connectivity. For the most part, the wearables are more fashionable than wearing a tin foil hat.
“I’m constantly scanning the Internet for technology wearables,” said Stern by phone. “In the last year, privacy wearables have been huge because of Snowden.” She also unearthed some oldies, like this “I will tase you bro” “No-Contact Jacket” from 2003. Stern highlighted creations from many designers — some of them order-able and some of them simply prototypes — but also included her own work. Stern, who is director of wearable technologies at DIY electronics company Adafruit, originally designed the compubody sock as a commentary on our addiction to our devices at the expense of everything around us…
…But it had some obvious privacy applications. Rather than slapping a privacy-enhancing screen on a laptop to make it harder to see from the side, this horror-moviesque wearable connects the body directly to the computer. It may seem crazy, but Edward Snowden famously “puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords to prevent any hidden cameras from detecting them,” reports the Guardian. You can’t buy this but you can ask a knitting-savvy friend to make it for you.
For those into derelict fashion and privacy, there’s this Faraday frock:
The “jammer coat” blocks “radio waves and shields the wearer against tracking devices,” according to Austria-based architecture firm Coophimmelblau, where it was designed. “You are no longer reachable on your mobile phone and no information from your credit card can be captured.”
If you’re not into techno-Snuggies, you can opt for a more discrete and economical cell phone-blocking pocket. The pre-made Off Pocket and Phonekerchief are currently sold out, but there are DIY tutorials at Adafruit and KillYourPhone for those that can get their hands on conductive fabric or shielding fleece. If people start using these regularly, rather than killing our phones, we might kill the assumption that we are always reachable.
For a more visceral privacy enhancement, there’s the “Spike Away.” This is for subway or elevator riders who don’t want to be crowded. While it looks like it could get you in legal trouble by taking out a child’s eyes, the spikes are not sharp ones. Designer Siew Ming Cheng bought the strips of dull plastic spikes from a gardening store; they’re usually meant to keep birds and cats away but she repurposed them to keep Mr. Gropey from rubbing up on your during rush hour.
Unfortunately, the TSA likely wouldn’t respect Spike Away as a deterrent, making you take it off along with your shoes. But if you choose the patdown over the body scan, you can wear “random search,” a haptic body suit, and let the agent know that you’re recording their touches.
Last year, artist Adam Harvey launched the temporary pop-up “Privacy Gift Shop” at the MOMA in New York, which carried a privacy-forward clutch that thwarts paparazzi by flashing back at them and a fashion line called Stealth Wear. He declined to allow me to include images due to the ad-tracking technology employed here at Forbes, but you can check out his anti-drone burqa here — which theoretically masks a person’s heat signature to make that person harder to discern by a machine in the sky. Given the hundreds of civilians killed by U.S. drone strikes abroad that one is a more critical commentary on international politics than on privacy.
Other wearables promise to hide us from machines that have eyes but no weapons, such as surveillance cameras. There are make-up strategies to fool a surveillance camera’s facial recognition algorithms to make you untrackable; hair stylings that would fit in well in the Hunger Games’ Capitol; or LED-studded umbrellas that make it hard for a camera to realize it’s looking at a human body.
“I’m interested in the hacker way of reclaiming your own space in a world with increasingly fewer privacy rights where privacy can’t be assumed,” said Stern. “I love technology but I don’t want to be told what to do by it. I want to willingly put information into the public sphere.”