Some SF bar patrons concerned about SceneTap

May 18, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Facial recognition software is now being used to track which bars and night clubs are hopping and what the ratio is of men to women. But that app is raising eyebrows among those who see it as an invasion of privacy. SceneTap held a launch party Friday night in San Francisco.

The concern some have about this new application is that someone other than SceneTap can top into their facial recognition program and follow you from bar to bar.

"It very creepy. It's a very creepy idea," said Matt Lieb.

Cameras in Monaghan's Bar in the Marina are identifying the gender and approximate age of everyone who walks in. It uses what startup SceneTap calls anonymous facial detection software. SceneTap then feeds the information to an app. San Francisco resident Rachael Haley didn't know she was being monitored in the bar.

"I would probably benefit from it, have a ladies night and it's like, 'Oh, where should we go?' 'Let's go to where all the guys in our age range are,'" said Haley.

However, Rebecca Jeschke of the Electronic Frontier Foundation thinks using facial recognition to determine who is in a bar and when should cause concern, especially regarding privacy.

"Is it sensitive enough to track you from bar to bar?" asked Jeschke.

Jeschke is worried that if SceneTap stores any of that facial recognition data, it could be accessed by others.

The application is the brainchild of SceneTap CEO Cole Harper. He thought his app would be useful so people could determine what bar or club to patronize and business owners could gauge what attracts certain people and age groups. Harper says the only data they keep is gender and age.

"Facial detection tracks 12 data points as opposed to 36 which is facial recognition. But do you keep that data mapping? Which we do not," said Harper.

Harper says he's made every effort to assure people that their privacy is not at risk.

"I'm coming clean with everything were doing whether it's overly technical or not," said Harper.

Harper says San Francisco has been the toughest launch in the seven cities in which SceneTap operates. Twenty-five business had originally signed up, but after invasion of privacy concerns 19 remain. Harper hopes after this launch those concerns will disappear.

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