Fashion and Privacy: Could Eyebrow Trends Be Serving Facial Recognition Technologies?

Eyebrows have been one of the means that societies reflect their cultures since ancient times. In ancient Egypt, men and women wore make-up and preferred thick and pronounced eyebrows on their sacred faces. In ancient Greece and Rome, eyebrows represented women’s beauty and intelligence; they desired natural eyebrows, particularly unibrows. With the advent of the Middle Ages, the sense of women’s beauty had completely changed, and eyebrows had become almost non-existent. Then, the unibrow again replaced this preference in 18th-century Western Europe.

In the 20th century, eyebrow styles became a trending commodity in the globalized world, showcased by famous movie stars, singers, and models. While many cosmetic companies started producing countless products for eyebrows, shaping eyebrows has become a field requiring expertise.

Nevertheless, the role of eyebrows in our lives is far beyond being a cultural or aesthetic feature. The eyebrows also have functions such as indicating gender, understanding emotions, or supporting nonverbal communication such as sign language. In addition, eyebrows are an essential feature for people to recognize each other’s faces. It is an experimental finding that the absence of eyebrows on a familiar face makes it difficult to recognize that face...

Doing justice to the important role of eyebrows, thick and perfect eyebrows have been in fashion, particularly since 2015, and this eight-year period is a long time to justify the impermanence of the word fashion. Is it a coincidence that this trend coincides with a period when the developments in artificial intelligence technologies, thus facial recognition technologies, accelerate?

Researchers and developers have worked considerably on facial recognition technologies since the 1990s. In the acceleration of these studies, the selfie trend that spread worldwide after the famous selfie taken by Ellen DeGeneres at the Academy Awards in 2014 and the social media users’ voluntarily submitted data of millions of faces to the companies developing this technology contributed greatly. Thanks to the culture (!) of sharing one’s every moment on the internet and the desire to become a social media phenomenon, various data needed to develop and train facial recognition systems in quantity and quality is constantly being shared...

These systems map and read face geometry and facial expressions. They identify the landmarks key to distinguishing a face from other objects. The distance between the eyes, the distance between the forehead and the chin, the distance between the nose and the mouth, the eye sockets’ dept, the cheekbones’ shape, and the contour of the lips, ears, and chin are the main points that these systems look at.

In this context, face masks that have entered our lives with COVID-19 create difficulties for facial recognition systems. Masks covering the nose, lip, and chin, which are important facial recognition features, prevent some applications from working accurately. To remedy this, developers are working on applications that can accurately recognize a face despite a face mask. Such applications can perform facial recognition by focusing on the eyebrows and eyes, highlighting eyebrows’ importance in facial recognition.

Similarly, when it comes to facial recognition from a distance or on low-resolution images, eyebrows contribute significantly to the analysis of the observed image.

The thick and perfect eyebrow trend, which is still popular, seems to ease the operation of these applications.

However, if we think the other way around, it is possible for those who want to complicate the operation of these applications to consider making their eyebrows invisible. Brow bleaching, one of the eyebrow trends of 2023 and preferred by celebrities for now, can be a great excuse for this. Bleached eyebrows, which can be useful for those who want to avoid facial recognition systems, may cause problems in proving their identity for people who must perform certain transactions before official institutions that use these systems.

In any case, the developers of facial recognition systems may also tackle this challenge by seeing bleached eyebrows as a new test and trial opportunity; for instance, they may consider using deep learning models to predict eyebrows from eye sockets and brow ridges.

On the other hand, all these developments and trends may also be tests and trials that we voluntarily participate in without realizing it.

So be it or not, our facial features are our personal, biometric data. Therefore, it is useful to remember that we have a say in the fate of our data. First, by choosing the applications we use and with which authorizations we use them, then, when necessary, by exercising our right to demand protection under the personal data protection regime and the fundamental rights and freedoms!

Av. Müge Önal Başer, LL.M., LL.B.



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