In Brief

Taylor Swift ‘using facial recognition on fans’ to identify stalkers

Reports that concertgoers’ faces were secretly scanned have raised ethical questions

Fans attending Taylor Swift concerts have allegedly been scanned by a controversial facial recognition system without their permission.

According to Rolling Stone magazine, which first broke the story, audience members arriving at the singer’s show at the Los Angeles Rose Bowl on 18 May were offered the chance to “watch rehearsal clips at a special kiosk” outside the stadium. But the fans had no idea that a facial-recognition camera inside the display was taking their photos, which were then cross-checked with a database of people known to have stalked Swift, it is claimed. 

The alleged use of the system was revealed to the magazine by Mike Downing, chief security officer on a US board that advises concert venues including Madison Square Garden. He claims to have witnessed a demonstration of the special kiosks by the manufacturers, reports Washington DC-based news site The Hill.

Downing told Rolling Stone that “everybody who went by would stop and stare at it, and the software would start working”, adding that the data would then be sent to a “command post” in Nashville, Tennessee, for cross-referencing.

Neither Swift nor her representatives have responded to the claims.

Concert venues are technically private locations, so the use of facial recognition software at a concert would be legal even without the knowledge of the participants. Nevertheless, the reports of its use at Swift’s gig have “raised ethical questions for civil rights groups concerned about privacy”, says The Guardian.

“Stalkers are a generally scary phenomenon and everyone understands why someone like Taylor Swift would want to be protected against them,” Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, told the newspaper. “But this does have larger implications. It is not about this one deployment, it is about where this is technology is headed.”

Facial recognition software is being used at an increasing number of events around the world. Rolling Stone notes that earlier this year, Ticketmaster invested in Blink Identity, a start-up that “claims its sensors can identify people walking past at full speed in about half a second”, allowing fans to “move through turnstiles more efficiently”.

“It holds a lot of promise,” said Ticketmaster’s chief product officer, Justin Burleigh, who revealed that the company plans to beta-test the tech at venues early next year. “We’re just being very careful about where and how we implement it.”

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