Scene Tap debut has faced backlash on privacy issues

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Data sheet: Scene Tap allows users to see the relative gender ratio and average age of patrons at bars and clubs that use special scanners.
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The much-scrutinized debut of Scene Tap, a new smartphone application designed to let users know the gender makeup and average age of patrons at participating bars, seems to have reinforced the old adage that “no press is bad press.”

The app uses facial detection sensors, which were deployed in San Francisco bars last weekend, much to the chagrin of privacy advocates and skeptical online commentators. But while nine establishments backed out due to negative vibes, founder Cole Harper says he received a clump of emails from other bars wanting to participate.

“We had 2,000 new users register yesterday in a three-hour period,” Harper said. “We now have requests in San Fran, Mountain View, Oakland, San Jose, Palo Alto and Menlo Park.”

Media reports of “cameras” in bars were far off reality, Harper said, considering that the app uses only a 12-point facial detector to determine the gender and likely age of patrons going in and out of doorways where the sensors are put in place. The company says its sensors aren’t sophisticated enough to collect specific information about individuals, and the app tops out at 58 percent for females, so it doesn’t cause a frenzy of male patrons.

Still, the plan faced scrutiny last week from both the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the Electronic Freedom Foundation, representatives of which expressed concern about a slippery slope to potential privacy violations.

“There’s all sorts of new technology, all sorts of new information being gathered and used in new ways, so it’s a good time to figure out what we’re comfortable with,” said Rebecca Jeschke, a spokeswoman for EFF. “But I wouldn’t walk into a bar that has it. I have too many questions.”

Southpaw BBQ, a Mission district restaurant originally signed up to participate, posted a Facebook message this week saying that “as of right now” it would not utilize the app because it heard “several customers voice their concerns.” Pedro’s Cantina in South of Market also backed out.

Harper said the company wants the app to act as a simple scene barometer for bar hoppers, and as a marketing tool for the establishments to track demographics.

“We have no interest in tracking personal information,” Harper said, adding that of the six cities where the app has already launched, San Francisco presented the largest resistance. “We’re not a surveillance company.”

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

SF bars with facial detection

Marina District

  • Eastside West
  • Monaghan’s
  • Comet Club
  • Nob Hill / Tenderloin / Civic Center
  • The Wreck Room
  • McTeague’s
  • The Ambassador
  • Noble
  • Mayes Oyster House
  • R Bar

South of Market

  • Fluid Ultra Lounge
  • Manor West
  • Polo Grounds
  • John Collins
  • Financial District / North Beach
  • Tope
  • Taverna Aventine

Haight/Ashbury

  • Milk Bar
  • Opted out (at least for now)

Mission District

  • Southpaw BBQ

South of Market

  • Pedro’s Cantina
  • Eve Lounge
  • Pete’s Tavern
  • North Beach
  • Bamboo Hut

Marina

  • HiFi
  • Tenderloin
  • Kozy Kar Bar
  • Mr. Smith’s

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