New Bar Technology SceneTap Scans Faces, Raises Privacy Concerns

The tech company assures the public that the software doesn't identify faces

Scenetap scans bars with face detection technology.

A new wave of technology hit San Francisco bars this weekend, raising protests about privacy and, well, general creepiness. SceneTap, which was implemented in 12 bars, uses facial detection technology to estimate the age and gender of bar patrons, plus the number of people entering and leaving the bar. In short, anyone with the SceneTap app can guess the scene of a bar before even entering — the guy/girl ratio and how crowded it is.

Now, SceneTap is defending the technology and app after outrage from San Franciscan drinkers. Even pubs are withdrawing from using the software, like Southpaw BBQ. The restaurant said on Facebook that after customer complaints, they've decided not to use it. The technology is already in use in six other major cities, like Austin and Chicago, and has tracked nearly 8.5 million people. 

SceneTap CEO Cole Parker wrote an open letter on the SceneTap web site to San Franciscans, and also conducted a Q&A with SF Weekly, to discuss the concerns of privacy, as well as the "creep" factor of men preying on women. He stressed that the technology is different than facial recognition, which attempts to identify a person. Facial detection, he says, only pinpoints facial features using an algorithim. Plus, the video software does not actually store images or any other information, and no one has access to any information. He writes in his letter, "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." 

Parker also said that the app has been well received in its other tested cities; the app was also named a finalist in the social media category at this year's SXSW. You can check what other bars are testing SceneTap in San Francisco.