Is it technologically possible, using today's technology, to make a phone app that renders a spy nearly impossible to photograph with another smartphone in a public place?
Assume the spy has with him nothing but a standard smartphone and normal clothing. He isn't doing anything special to disguise his face. All the work is done by the app on a normal smartphone, interacting with the cloud, of course.
Can it work? Think about it for a minute before I give you a solution. Otherwise you might be bugged that you didn't think of it on your own.
Okay, here's how this could work.
First, assume the maker of the app is the United States government, and assume they have hooks into all the major phone makers' operating systems and all of the phone carriers' networks. I think this is a fair assumption. And if they don't have that access, they can get it with some arm-twisting.
The app that the spy uses would do nothing but continuously transmit his GPS location to the cloud. The real magic comes from the government's control of all the other smartphones in the world. The spy agency could force any smartphone within photo distance of the spy to forward pictures taken during that time - and that time only - up to the cloud for facial recognition processing. The tourist who takes the photo is unaware that the photo is being uploaded to the cloud.
Once in the cloud, facial recognition software looks for signs that the spy, who is known to be in the vicinity of the photo, actually appears in the photo. If it gets a match, the spy's face is automatically replaced with stock photo of another person's face that is roughly the same age, gender, and ethnicity. The new photo is downloaded to the original phone and replaces the one that had the spy picture.
The spy software would have to intercept any photos before they get posted to social media, so there might be a time lag when a user posts to social media anything within a block of a spy. But most people would assume the lag is from network congestion or a server hiccup at Facebook.
This is another example of what I call the upcoming Age of Magic, when technology will do for us the types of things we would only see in a Harry Potter movie.
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com
Author of this book