By Rachel Swan
Beloved Mission District eatery Pizzeria Delfina announced today that it's solved the problem of pizzeria congestion - with an app, of course. The restaurant's new WaitCast service allows customers to view the wait list via a Dropcam (a video monitoring web camera) installed in Delfina's 18th Street location. Pointed directly at the names on the wait list chalkboard, the webcam reveals exactly how long the queue is, indicating whether or not it's worthwhile to trek over and buy a pie.
Next Tuesday Delfina will install a Dropcam at its Pacific Heights location Restaurant staffers tout the app as a clever technological solution to one of the vexing problems of our times.
But privacy experts are slightly concerned.
After all, when you view the WaitCast online, you can see people moving through the frame, seemingly unaware of an eavesdropper on the other side. You can also scroll back at least a week - possibly more - to see exactly who was in the restaurant at any particular time of day. And, most unnerving of all, you can watch people write their names down, and match a person to each of those names.
Pizzeria Delfina spokeswoman Ashley Bellview says the business doesn't anticipate any problems, and that it consulted lawyers beforehand to make sure the cameras were legal. While there's no disclosure notice on the wall, the cameras are hanging in plain sight, she says.
Staffers at the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation remain wary.
"I want to start by saying that when this first came to our attention, everyone effusively talked about how much they loved Pizzeria Delfina - it was hard to actually focus on the privacy issue," EFF spokesman Dave Maass says. But once they got down to business, a few thorny issues presented themselves.
"If they're going to do this," Maass says, "they should have a disclosure telling people that if you put your name on the board, and walk in front of the camera, you're being broadcast to anyone watching. Also, they shouldn't retain any information beyond what's absolutely necessary for this service. It's not necessary for users to know who was there at 5 p.m. last Thursday night."
Having first names only isn't a surefire guarantee of privacy when people can see what you look like as you're writing your name down, he said. A worst-case scenario: You acquire a stalker who knows you like eating at Pizzeria Delfina, who can now review the webcast to see if you've ever gone in with a party of two.
That might be unlikely, but it's certainly harrowing.
So, Maass concludes, while it's extremely unlikely that anyone would sue Delfina for a privacy violation, it would still behoove the business to bring its webcam policies up to the same standards as its delicious pizza.