Encrypted messaging app Signal is introducing a new face-blurring tool that will soon be installed into the current software versions in Android and iOS. Those sharing images through the app will now be able to blur faces quickly to hide identity, even though not completely.
According to Signal co-founder Moxie Marlinspike, the update comes as a result of increased protests against racism and police brutality globally, following the police killing of George Floyd. Due to these protests, Americans in their millions are downloading Signal, which uses end-to-end encryption to make it more difficult to intercept messages.
“We’ve also been working to figure out additional ways we can support everyone in the street right now,” Marlinspike wrote in a blog post announcing the update. “One immediate thing seems clear: 2020 is a pretty good year to cover your face.”
While some face-blurring tools may send information to other devices, with Signal, everything happens on the device you’re using to maintain privacy. The entire blurring processing takes place within the device, so uncensored images don’t leave the user’s phone.
Once you take a photo through Signal or upload an image from your gallery, click on the Blur option, and the app will instantly detect the faces on the image. In case it misses any of the faces in the picture, a user can simply tap on them, and they’ll be blurred. Also, one can do this to any other feature they’d like to hide.
While blurring faces in images increases the privacy of pictures, it’s not been proven to anonymize photographs and hide a person’s identity. Some tools can be used to reverse the blurring and pixelation methods. Additionally, one can use other information like clothing and tattoo to identify someone. They do this by comparing it with additional details on un-blurred images.
Even though individuals participating in a protest will hide the identities of fellow attendees, other people may not do the same. Even worse, surveillance cameras, police body cameras, and press photographers are all over capturing images. So the chances of completely hiding one’s identity are quite slim. It’s advisable to wear a mask, to be on the safe side.
Nevertheless, Signal has already submitted the tool to Google Play Store and Apple App Store, and it will soon be implemented.