SceneTap CEO Explains Why Facial Detection Technology in S.F. Bars Isn't That Creepy

Categories: Tech
For the most part, San Francisco is a warm and welcoming city -- there's not too many people or things we won't tolerate. Except of course, the feeling that big brother is watching us.

Needless to say, San Franciscans were livid when they found out that the Texas-based SceneTap rolled out its cool new facial detection technology, coming to a bar near you this weekend.

After we broke the news yesterday to faithful bar patrons, SceneTap found itself on the defensive, as readers and critics flooded the blogosphere with promises to boycott any bar that's using facial recognition technology to watch them -- whatever the reason may be.

SceneTap's CEO and founder Cole Harper talked (via e-mail) with SF Weekly about the new technology.

SFW: Don't you think this technology might deter people from wanting to go out drinking at a bar -- like it's big brother watching them?
SceneTap: You actually give up more information when you hand a bouncer your ID at the door. We've been privacy advocates from day one, actually joining an FTC panel in Washington with reps from Facebook and Google to talk about the implications of this technology.
As far as venues are concerned, SceneTap helps increase foot traffic by matching up people with the scene for them. So if you're with a group looking to grab a drink at a table and have an audible conversation, you can find a place ahead of time that isn't too crowded. On the other hand, if you're looking for a busier atmosphere, SceneTap can help you find that scene, too.

SFW: How accurate is the software? In a city like San Francisco, a proud haven of transgenders, queers, and drag queens, we wonder how that might trip up the technology. (seriously!)
SceneTap: The software is extremely accurate, particularly with our proprietary algorithms in place. Remember, the software doesn't know who you are, so it's going off of what you look like. But since none of the data is individualized, no one person is negatively impacted. The gender information is presented as a percentage breakdown of who has entered the venue, so over the course of the night, the statistics work themselves out. We are partnered with LGBT venues all over the country and this is a sensitive topic we have kept in consideration when providing our service.

SFW: Could this information be used and given to police?
SceneTap: Most venues have their own security cameras in place, which SceneTap has nothing to do with.

SFW: How long would the information be stored?

SceneTap: Our technology does not store information -- venue owners don't even have access to the feed.
SFW: What's been the response in other communities?
SceneTap: The reception has been great so far. The feedback has also been that it's great for tourists or people who might be visiting a city and aren't really familiar with the nightlife scene.We launched in July 2011 at 50 venues in Chicago and have since expanded to Austin (Texas), Bloomington (Ind.), Gainesville (Fla.), Athens (GA) and Madison (Wis.).

Here's a list of the San Francisco bars that are using this technology starting Friday.

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Ben Walsh
Ben Walsh

"We've been privacy advocates from day one, actually joining an FTC panel in Washington with reps from Facebook and Google to talk about the implications of this technology."

That's not what being a privacy advocate is. "Actually" joining a panel doesn't make you a privacy advocate.

Every single thing I've heard from these people and their bar-owner friends is full of this sort of weaseling.


Who in their right mind, thinks this is a good idea?  No one wants to be seen drinking, in a bar.Although it might be a good thing for some people, then they would understand why some people don't speak to them anymore.


SceneTap doesn't show anyone drinking at a bar. There are several apps that do (, barphly), but SceneTap certainly isn't one of them.

Vato con chorizo
Vato con chorizo

Lets install it in your home and see how intrusive you feel about it then Harper.  In your bedroom maybe?

Variac Zap
Variac Zap

Mr. Harper:What you state might well be true, not true ,or more likely, true for now.Whichever is the case, the big dollars you seek make you slightly less than credible. Perhaps submit to regular independent privacy audits? I find it hard to believe that you store no cannot help but wonder what opt-in enticements you are putting together....

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