A new smartphone app called SceneTap uses facial detection technology via cameras placed strategically in bars and nightclubs to determine crowd size, average customer age and male-to-female ratio.
There’s just one problem: the patrons being scanned don’t know they’re being monitored.
Last year, SceneTap CEO Cole Harper told the Austin Business Journal that SceneTap was already creating strategic partnerships all over the globe.
“As our vision for SceneTap 1.0 becomes a reality, we’ll begin to launch our technology at popular destinations around the world”
The company has installed bar cameras in California, Texas, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Florida, and Wisconsin.
Unlike facial-recognition software, the SceneTap cameras installed use facial-detection software, which only “allegedly” detects basic information about people, not specific facial identities.
But there’s an “entire infrastructure of cameras in each of the participating venues that collects a variety of characteristics to determine gender and age: the nose, the eyes, the jaw structure, mouth and overall face shape, forehead and skeletal structure.”
SceneTap’s CEO says, “It almost takes your face and creates a grid, matching general facial features to males or females, before determining how old you are”
Venture Beat notes SceneTap is live in seven markets, including San Francisco and Austin, and has tracked more than 8.5 million people at 400 partner venues. Bamboo Hut, Bar None, milk bar, The Abassador, Fluid Ultra Lounge and 20 other San Francisco locations will have the i-spy cameras in place.
Business Insider claims SceneTap has partnered with 50 bars in the Chicago area and are working on preparing networks in New York, Boston, DC, Miami, Austin, Columbus, St. Louis, Phoenix, San Diego, Las Vegas, and other popular college towns.
Venture Beat points out that nightspot owners can offer specials, and are given tools to gauge the effectiveness of their campaigns. “Did that happy hour margie discount, for instance, bring in more ladies?”
Users can open SceneTap to see featured bars, deals, and specials in their area, locate nearby bars in map view or list view and receive immediate information, or map out a trip to the bar from their current location.
But ZDNet’s Violet Blue claims SceneTap is being compared to a “stalker app”called “Girls Around Me”, an app where users pick a gender — “typically user male/target female — and a radar-style map opens up to find nearby girls.”
Think Ted Bundy.
Venture Beat’s Jennifer Van Grove notes what is most troubling about SceneTap is that the consumer has no say in the matter.
“Walk into one of these bars and you’re being digitally sized up” and there’s nothing you can do about it. And who’s to say SceneTap won’t start collecting other traits such as height, weight, ethnicity, or wealth?”
Indeed, what happens if SceneTap’s so-called facial-detection software is ever upgraded and enhanced to be as precise as facial recognition software? What if it already is?
Because based on a study by Carnegie Mellon University’s Alessandro Acquisti and his research team, it’s possible to identify strangers and gain their personal information — perhaps even their social security numbers — by using face recognition software and social media profiles.
“A person’s face is the veritable link between her offline and online identities,”said Acquisti, associate professor of information technology and public policy at the Heinz College and a Carnegie Mellon CyLab researcher.
Violet Blue writes: “Right now, the way most San Franciscans are finding out about SceneTap is by friends sharing articles about the app as a handy list of places to boycott.”