Event Tech Privacy: What You Should Know about Facial Recognition, RFID, iBeacons

We all know that most events trade heavily on novelty factors. Be it  a great entertainment feature or menu, events aim to have something no-one else has to make themselves memorable. For a great many events, this can be event tech in its many forms. 

In our rush to get the most cutting edge tech out there, researching the implications of that technology can be overlooked. So what sort of event tech developments are presenting the most pressing challenges in event planning?

Facial Recognition

Facial recognition has quietly made significant advances in recent years. When Facebook first introduced automatic facial recognition to suggest tags a few years back, there was an immediate backlash and the feature was removed.

As Facebook takes another leap forward in its war on Snapchat with its new moments feature, the issue of facial recognition re-emerges. In an effort to increase how many photos users post, Facebook uses a program called DeepFace to suggest other photos that include the same people. Google Photos uses a similar program and as a result both functionalities are banned in many countries.

Asked whether two unfamiliar photos of faces show the same person, a human being will get it right 97.53 percent of the time. New software developed by researchers at Facebook can score 97.25 percent on the same challenge, regardless of variations in lighting or whether the person in the picture is directly facing the camera.

Tom Simonite, MIT Technology Review

The technology involved is becoming more and more nuanced – Google’s algorithm can recognise child and adult photos of the same person while Facebook can even look at factors such as body language, hairstyle and body shape, meaning even a clear photo of someone’s face isn’t essential.

Facial recognition is slowly making its way into large events, such as Download Festival 2014. Due to increasing security concerns, a combination of drones and facial recognition has become an efficient means of recognising threats.While clearly the duty to protect attendees from danger is paramount, there are serious privacy rights concerns for attendees while (as per usual) governments in most countries lag behind. It’s worth examining how best to explain the technology to attendees in advance, rather than facing somewhat of a PR backlash as Download Festival did a few years back.

Two models wearing CV Dazzle styling.
Berlin based artist, Adam Harvey, has developed an avant garde style of hair and makeup called Hyperface, explicitly designed to confuse facial recognition software.

Internet of Things

For a great many of us the phrase ‘internet of things’ doesn’t mean a whole lot. At best, its a fridge that tells you when you’re out of milk or can change the thermostat from an app. In reality most applications of the internet of things are very subtle and don’t jump out at us as being part of a new wave of technology. The internet of things represents one of the first major steps towards connected devices that no longer seem to be part of the internet, they simply appear to be a means of interacting with a space.

The most dangerous part of IoT is that consumers are surrendering their privacy, bit by bit, without realizing it, because they are unaware of what data is being collected and how it is being used. As mobile applications, wearables and other Wi-Fi-connected consumer products replace “dumb” devices on the market, consumers will not be able to buy products that don’t have the ability to track them.

Christine Bannan, Techcrunch

iBeacons

iBeacons and RFID are both great examples of how the internet of things and event management are a great match. iBeacons use low energy bluetooth signals to create a real time interaction between the attendee and the event space. It can push badges and tickets based on location or notify attendees of upcoming events near then using push notifications.

Nonetheless, the technologies are not without privacy issues. iBeacons involve handing over significant amount of data to app providers, so it’s important to take time to really understand their terms and conditions.

RFID and NFC

RFID and NFC on the other hand are huge time saving opportunities. They can be used to create wearable wristbands or tags for attendees. This lets them scan into events in one tap (no more badge printing!) or even use cashless transactions for food and drink. It can also be used for networking depending on the event tech available, letting your attendees exchange details via the device.

No more queuing, no more time consuming data entry to work out attendance rates. RFID is still quite new in the realm of event management, but it has huge potential to cut out a great many pain points for event organizers and attendees alike.

RFID on the other hand can have somewhat more sinister applications. The same technology that aims to reduce counterfeiting and theft can be used to track users habits, preferences and even physical movements afterwards. There is also some risk of hacking and fraud when it comes to NFC and bank accounts  which is also worth considering. It’s important to be clear both with your event tech provider and your attendees exactly what happens to the data once the event is over.

 

Person Holding Electronic Device While Using Its Macbook Laptop

Conclusion

Its very easy to get swept up in the hype surrounding a new form of event tech, particularly those which seem to offer significant convenience and efficacy for minimal effort. Its always worth bearing in mind that by and large, legislatures around the world have been ineffective in properly regulating these technologies. This means the level of trust you need to have for your tech provider is higher and the onus is on you to protect your attendees from shady practices.

  • brynninthecity

    You’re absolutely right – things get exponentially more complicated the more tech you bring into the events arena. This is why it’s so important for event profs to be educated! This is a great article, thanks for sharing.

  • I run an event management software company called EventsCase and I completely agree with this article. Event planners and organisations should always find out how their data is stored and used during an event — and what happens to it afterwards. Conversely, tech providers should also disclose this information especially when their clients are not tech savvy and do not have a good understanding of data security.