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San Francisco bars: Buy a drink, become profiled by cameras

San Francisco bars: Buy a drink, become profiled by cameras

Posting in Finance

Find out the male-female ratios, crowd size and age of a bar's patrons...before you enter it - and be tracked yourself.

Have you ever been to a bar recommended by a friend, which apparently has a young crowd, great scene and more women than men -- only to enter it to find everyone over 60 and mulling over ale in what seems like solitary confinement?

In horror, you glance at your watch, and find not only have you wasted the entrance fee, but it's too late to go elsewhere.

However, a new startup aims to change that -- by collating real-time information on a venue's crowd that can be accessed through your mobile device before you enter the doors of no return.

Venturebeat reports that Chicago-based startup Scenetap has combined "anonymous" facial recognition technology in venues with mobile technology so socialites can choose where next to go on a Friday based on their preferences -- all provided through cameras in different venues.

The Scenetap service went live in San Francisco at 25 bars last Friday, but can also be found in other locations -- including Chicago, Athens, Bloomington and Austin. Through the app or website, you can search for your next venue by male-to-female ratio, current capacity (by percentage), "scene" (chilled or for partygoers?) and the average age of customers -- from 21 to over 30.

Seed funded and ran by 17 employees, Scenetap is in the process of raising finance in a Series A round. The cameras that track customers and provides such real-time information are manufactured by the company, who then installs the cameras -- and this information is relayed through Scenetap's system.

Once you enter the door, you're noticed. The website states: "We represent EVERYONE in the venue". Scenetap promises the technology collects data "anonymously" and nothing is recorded or stored, and it is based on sophisticated profiling technology to approximate sex and age.

Scenetap has tracked almost 9 million people at 400 venues, and apparently has almost reached 100,000 users of the service -- although demographic information is not currently available.

The ethical use of such technology, especially when consumers are unaware that they are being tracked, is open to debate. As Venturebeat explained it, you are being "digitally sized-up" when you enter a venue, whether you like it or not.

This type of technology is already prevalent online, where customer preferences and habits are tracked -- in order to recommend products or pages you may be interested in. As we cannot see the data being collated, it seems less of a privacy issue than knowing that cameras above are observing you -- even though the information collected about your online activity is far more vast.

Image credit: Scenetap

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure