Facial images used to gauge club gender ratios — but some turned off 

click to enlarge Tapping the scene: The CEO of Scene Tap, which created a smartphone application, says the technology can’t identity specific individuals. It will debut at San Francisco bars Friday. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Tapping the scene: The CEO of Scene Tap, which created a smartphone application, says the technology can’t identity specific individuals. It will debut at San Francisco bars Friday.

Smartphone users already have prices, weather and traffic conditions at their fingertips for almost any excursion, and starting Friday, San Francisco will be blessed with a new barometer for nightlife — mating-ground demographics.

Scene Tap — already available in several cities across the nation — is an application that uses facial-detection sensors in bar doorways to determine the real-time male-female ratio and average age of patrons at participating locations in The City.

The app — set to be used at clusters of bars in the Marina district, downtown and on Polk Street — has already caused fears of Orwellian surveillance, but creators are quick to note there are no cameras inside bars. Rather than cross-referencing faces with social media profiles to identify specific individuals, the app aims to be a simple age and gender gauge for bar hoppers, plus a marketing tool for owners to better understand their clientele and the effectiveness of promotions.

According to Scene Tap creators, the sensors use a 12-point detection method that’s simply not capable of identifying individuals. While the American Civil Liberties Union sees no problem with the technology in its current form, attorney Chris Conley said privacy violations could occur if the information gathering gets more specific.

“With this tool, you can see the shape of the nose and eyes, the height of the forehead. You start to have a set of people who fit that profile,” Conley said. “When information is collected and manipulated behind the scenes, it’s very hard for users to understand what happens to it.”

Scene Tap CEO Cole Harper — in town this weekend to witness the app’s local debut — said San Francisco has displayed far more skepticism than the six other cities where the
technology has launched.

“We’ve never had any of this kind of widespread concern,” Harper said, adding that many retail locations already use the sensors to track demographics. “I certainly don’t want to be spied upon while I’m drinking, and we’re not doing that.”

Harper also downplayed the app’s usefulness in discovering where potential mates might be gathering, and had little to offer on how San Francisco’s gender-bending nature might set measurements askew. He said a bar’s percentage of patrons who are female will top out at 58 percent — regardless of whether it’s higher — to avoid a potential stampede of males, and that bars have the ability to turn off the sensor at any time if the ratio causes problems.

“We’re not doing this to help guys find girls,” Harper said, adding that aggregate data show bars generally contain two males to every one female. “We’re doing this to help guys not go into a bar that’s already 90 percent guys.”

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

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Dan Schreiber

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