San Francisco Bars Quietly Install Facial-Recognition Cameras; Report “Male” and “Female” Crowd Ratios Online
On Friday afternoon, about 20 bars around San Francisco are set to have special “facial detection” cameras turned on as part of a new smartphone app by Chicago-based startup SceneTap.
The cameras, which are mounted above the door of their client bars, scan patrons’ faces as they enter and exit the bar. The company’s software then immediately determines whether the person is male or female, and counts how many of each are in the bar, divides that by the known capacity of the bar, and then outputs something like: “Crowd: >90% full | Women: 58% | Men: 42%.”
San Francisco bar patrons are unlikely to know that their faces are being scanned, however—the company has only put SceneTap stickers in the windows, but does not explain to customers in an obvious way what exactly is going on.
"Here’s the thing—there are no videos or images stored at any time," wrote the company’s CEO, Cole Harper, in an open letter to San Francisco. “Once the data is triggered, the images are overwritten, deleted, gone. There are no tapes. There is no video feed either. No one can go to www.scenetap.com and see what is happening. It’s all data and numbers—that’s it. And since we’re only focused on the door, you’re free to do keg stands and dance like Bernie or hit on that bartender all you want—we do not track you in the venue.”
The problem being, of course, that we are being asked to simply trust in the innate good nature of a face-recognition software company to not record, copy, or report this data, even while they have every reason to do so. I for one am entirely willing to send that kind of data off to Scenetap, whom I’m positive will never misuse, sell, or hand over the data to interested parties with subpoenas and/or giant cartoon-dollar-sign-encrusted bags of cash.
(Not to mention the troubling assumption on the part of Scenetap that designation of gender can be left in the hands of software, and then reported without consent. What the hell criteria are they using, anyway?)
Here is a list of San Francisco venues that have installed Scenetap cameras. Ars Technica reports that many bars that are still listed on Scenetap’s page have since pulled out. The fact that they considered the program in the first place is worth pointing out, however. These venues are indicated with an *.
- Bamboo Hut
- Bar None*
- Comet Club
- Eastside West
- Fluid Ultra Lounge
- John Collins*
- Kozy Kar Bar
- Manor West
- Mayes Oyster House
- McTeague’s Saloon
- milk bar
- Mr. Smith’s*
- Polo Grounds
- R Bar
- Scenetap SF Strategy Center
- Taverna Aventine
- The Wreck Room
I think I might do a little tour of their Yelp pages today.