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Monday, May 21, 2012

S.F. Bars Nix SceneTap's Creepy Facial Detection Cameras

Posted By on Mon, May 21, 2012 at 2:12 PM

San Francisco prefers to drink alone
  • San Francisco prefers to drink alone
If SceneTap's facial detection cameras have revealed anything, it's that San Francisco just might be tapped out on the oversaturation of social media. Sure, we're among the first to consume any technology to maintain an annoying presence online, but when it entails something as seemingly intrusive as facial detection, well, then suddenly we want to remain anonymous.

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.

SceneTap officials could not tell us just yet how many other bars have nixed the technology, but SF Weekly has learned that Bar None and Kozy Kar will no longer be using the cameras.

"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 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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About The Author

Erin Sherbert

Erin Sherbert

Erin Sherbert was the Online News Editor for SF Weekly from 2010 to 2015. She's a Texas native and has a closet full of cowboy boots to prove it.


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