S.F. Bars Nix SceneTap's Creepy Facial Detection Cameras
|San Francisco prefers to drink alone|
Facing outrage from patrons, some bars decided not to let SceneTap install those creepy cameras in San Francisco's watering holes, which would use facial detection technology to tell potential patrons the general age and gender of the crowd.
Charles Hall, operator of Bar None in the Marina, initially agreed to have the camera installed in the bar. He said SceneTap had approached him a few months ago, offering him the cutting-edge technology that he thought would help business. Little did he know, this decision would leave him -- and plenty of other barkeeps -- facing promises from patrons to boycott boozing wherever the cameras turn up.
Here's the kind of Yelp reviews Bar None was getting after SF Weekly broke the news about the new technology making its way to San Francisco:
Anyone that would put a face recognition video system in a social club is off their rocker. You might as well bring the Cheaters tv show with you! Bad planning guys -- and it has hammered your business.
After reading those reviews, Hall said the bar decided to back out of its verbal agreement with SceneTap. "It's possible I'll lose business over it, but to what extent, I don't know," Hall told us.
"The backlash was more than I expected," Hall told us. "But I could see where it feels wrong. You have to keep in mind people go to restaurants and bars to have private time away from work and home, and even though they are in public they want to be able to do their own thing and not have people watching."
Cole Harper, SceneTap's CEO, defended the technology with this letter he drafted and posted on the company's website. He explains that while facial recognition can provide personal information, such as name, address, and gender, facial detection -- the technology SceneTap is using -- would simply provide gender and rough age estimates.
An except from his letter:
Here's the thing -- there are no videos or images stored at any time. 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.
Hall said there's something to be said for too much social media. Being able to "check in" at a bar is one thing, but being watched at that bar where you've "checked in" seems to cross a different line.
"I guess it just gave me the feeling that our patrons were being looked at as a user base and not as customers anymore," Hall said. "And how much do you really gain from that?"
Especially if everyone can see that your bar is empty on a Saturday night.
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