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Entries in Electronic Privacy Information Center (7)

Wednesday
May162012

SceneTap Facial Recognition Coming to a Club Near You

Get ready, Bay Area clubbers: SceneTap is heading your way this weekend.

The facial recognition technology is being adopted by clubs and bars across the country to help customers get a sneak peek at the nightlife and crowds on a given night.

SceneTap is already being used in multiple cities: Austin, Texas; Bloomington, Ind.; Gainesville, Fla.; Athens, Ga.; and Madison, Wis. It was originally rolled out in 50 Chicago-area venues in 2011.

As of Friday, the technology will be in 25 bars in the San Francisco area as well.

How does it work? SceneTap uses special cameras places throughout a club or bar to tell users what kind of crowd is there, in real-time. Users download the SceneTap app for free, then can get clued into the demographics of any member bar’s crowd.

Don’t worry: The information isn’t shared with police, and the venue doesn’t even have access to the video footage. Cole Harper, the CEO of Texas-based SceneTap, insists that the technology is not any more intrusive on your privacy than showing the bouncer your ID.

"We've been privacy advocates from day one," Harper told NBC. "SceneTap helps increase foot traffic by matching up people with the scene for them. So if you're with a group looking to grab a drink at a table and have an audible conversation, you can find a place ahead of time that isn't too crowded. On the other hand, if you're looking for a busier atmosphere, SceneTap can help you find that scene, too."

Monday
Oct242011

Congress to Target Facial Recognition? 

Congress has begun questioning the security and privacy implications of the growing use of facial recognition technology, even within government agencies.

With the FBI activating its new facial recognition apps and programs in 2012, some members of Congress are turning their attention back to privacy concerns. Sen. Jay Rockefeller recently requested a report from the FTC on the security implications of facial recognition technology, specifically, how it will affect online privacy.

Meanwhile, the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is considering privacy legislation to help safeguard the new technology. However, those who question its effectiveness have a whole host of concerns, including the use of special protection on or by young people under the age of 13. The FTC report is due by February 8, 2012, meaning next year will be an interesting one.

Friday
Oct142011

Computer Vision System Identifies Bystanders at Crime Scenes

You know what they say about returning to the scene of a crime, right? Some criminals just can't stay away, and a team of researchers at Notre Dame University is using computer vision to capitalize on that urge.

Their Questionable Observer Detector system is designed to identity suspicious people who gather at crime scenes. The software will pick up on those who repeatedly appear in bystanders' videos, even if the quality is amateur-grade.

"QuOD" creates "face tracks" for each individual in a video, repeating the process for all available video clips. When the face tracks are compared, a cluster is created of any faces from different video clips that look similar enough to match each other.

An individual is considered suspicious if law enforcement considers that he or she appears too often for comfort.

There are still problems to overcome - lighting and resolution for such bystander videos are often very poor indeed, and the sheer number of videos to be processed can often cause difficulty. But the team say they're confident of overcoming these challenges.

Far more important for many, though, will be the issue of civil liberties. The researchers say they believe people will approve, given that the system identifies people who were actually present at crime scenes, rather than simply suspected of being there.

Monday
Jun132011

Privacy Advocates Ask for FTC Investigation of Facebook Facial Rec

Mark Zuckerberg has even more to worry about now.

On Friday, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) joined with the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Watchdog and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in filing a formal complaint to the Federal Trade Commission on the legality of Facebook's new facial recognition software.

The "unfair and deceptive" software examines newly uploaded photos and compares them to other photos in which you or your friends are tagged in order to make tagging suggestions. EPIC contends that "users could not reasonably have known that Facebook would use their photos to build a biometric database in order to implement a facial recognition technology under the control of Facebook."

The privacy organizations are hoping to put a halt to the Facebook facial rec, pending an FTC investigation. Or, at the least, make the software available on an opt-in basis.

In the meantime, drunken Facebook photo posters beware!

Wednesday
Feb232011

Seattle Restaurant Refuses to Serve TSA Employees 

A restaurant near the Seattle-Tacoma International airport is officially fed up with the TSA--and the employees are letting their opinion be known: They've actually banned TSA employees from the premises. 

KC McLawson, a server at the restaurant, told Christopher Elliott, a consumer advocate/journalist, that she and her coworkers have been instructed to turn away any TSA worker who comes through the door. 

"My boss flies quite a bit and he has an amazing ability to remember faces," she said. If he sees a TSA agent come in, we turn our backs and completely ignore them, and tell them to leave."

This may sound harsh, but consider all of TSA's recent missteps: Agents stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from passengers traveling through New York, harassed good-looking women, violated their own regulations and, all the while, failed to ensure our safety.