These Event Technologies Raise Big Questions about Privacy

We all know that most events rely on novelty tech factors.

Have you seen that drone that films with crisp HD quality that makes smiles look wider on screen than on real people’s faces? Have you tested the 360 virtual reality tennis court that has you hopping in your business suit?

The chase for unprecedented gadgetry is never-ending.

While event organizers rush to pique curiosity and titillate audiences, they need to remember event tech has its limitations. In fact, sometimes, it should.

Organizers would be wise not to overlook the implications. By that, we don’t only mean compliance with the EU’s newly-implemented GDPR (General Data Protection Rules), which is a big topic in itself.

The question we will address here is different. Which sort of event tech developments is presenting the most pressing challenges?

So we did some homework. Here are the three technologies that raise important questions about privacy - and our take on how to address them.


Face Recognition

Facial recognition is a software that can point out someone out of a group by analyzing a photo or a scan of that person's face. The tech has made significant advances in recent years. When Facebook introduced it to suggest tags a few years back, there was an immediate backlash.

The social network’s capability to make suggestions of who should be tagged in photos you share or to tell you when your face appears in other users’ posts irritated and worried many people - as well as regulators. Other internet giants, such as Google, did not take long to launch their features.

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

So how does all that might play out at events? Providers promise quick and easy registration. Eventbrite UK’s blog suggests that face recognition can boost the fun factor. Imagine, for example, getting your favorite drink at the bar without ever having to ask for it.

Then, of course, there’s the issue of security. A combination of drones and facial recognition has become an efficient means of recognizing threats.

While the duty to protect attendees from danger is paramount, there are serious privacy rights concerns for attendees. In most countries, governments - let’s face it - tend to lag behind.

So what should you do? Consider explaining the technology’s advantages to attendees in advance. At the same time, it is essential to be transparent and honest about the ways data will be used and saved (or not). After all - and here comes GDPR again - you have to. The other option is facing a PR storm and damaged reputation.


Internet of Things

For a great many of us the phrase ‘internet of things’ doesn’t mean a whole lot. Your fridge tells you when you’re out of milk. Or maybe it lets you change the temperature from an app.

In reality, most applications of the Internet of Things (IoT) are subtle. So far, IoT has not unleash a tsunami of technological change.

Yet it represents a signifcant step towards connected devices that use sensors to collect data within a physical space - and then share it.

The upshots of IoT for event managers can be numerous. From attendee badges performing virtual handshakes to interactive posters, there’s much to gain for event planners. Data collection and generation of new types of reports - for example, attendee mapping and heat maps - offer massive potential for understanding your attendees’ needs and behavior.

To many, however, this poses a major risk. Data breaches, illegal or unethical mining and sharing of information are no small issues.

With IoT, consumers might be surrendering their privacy, bit by bit, without realizing it. Less active users and more unwitting subjects of targeted actions, people run the risk of being unaware of what data is being collected and how it is being used.

Christine Bannan of Techcrunch warns from the impact of mobile applications, wearable, and other Wi-Fi-connected consumer products. Customer, she says, will not be able to buy products that cannot track them.

Let’s take a look at some examples of IoT technology and discuss ways to address the associated issues.



iBeacons and are a clear example of how the internet of things and event management can make 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 them.

Nonetheless, the technologies are not without privacy issues. iBeacons involve handing over a significant amount of data to app providers.

What should you do? The most important part is to take time and understand the terms and conditions. There is the legal matter, meant to make sure you’re not liable if a provider breached laws and regulations. It is also a precondition for clear and honest communication with your attendees.

Once you, as an event organizer, know the ins and outs of the technology, you can educate your event team. And when the internal comms are completed, you’d be in a much better position to answer your event guests’ questions. An assured attendee equals a content one.

That could boost trust in your brand - and even customer loyalty.



RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags that are attached to physical objects. The Near-Field Communication (NFC) chip lets portable devices like smartphones exchange information.

Fancy names aside, RFID and NFC offer huge time-saving opportunities. They can be used, for example, to create wearable wristbands or tags for attendees. Visitors 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.

The advantages can be immense. Forget the queuing. Get rid of time-consuming data entry. No more guessing of attendance rates.

RFID is still quite new in the realm of event management, but it has the potential to eliminate many pain points for event organizers and attendees alike.

But it can have 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. There is also some risk of hacking and fraud when it comes to NFC and bank accounts.

What should you do?

Agina, the key is to be clear both with your event tech provider and your attendees. What happens to the data after the event? How are user details stored? Who guarantees the safety of information? If you can answer your questions yourself, you can make sure your attendees are also informed and assured. If you can’t, take some time to clarify things with your provider and - possibly - your legal team.


The Takeaway

It may be easy to get swept up in the hype surrounding newish event tech. It’s even easier to get carried away by the promise of significant convenience and efficacy for minimal effort.

Even with GDPR, legislatures around the world have not always been successful in adequatley regulating these technologies.

The level of trust you need to have for your tech provider is high. The onus is on you to protect your attendees from shady practices.

Get this right, and you’ll gain peace of mind and some smiling faces in the crowd of attendees.

Ilan Goren, Head of Content, Swapcard
Ilan Goren, Head of Content, Swapcard

I help organisations transform their core competencies through strategic storytelling . Background as a published author and journalist.

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