Taylor Swift fans who went to her concert at the Rose Bowl earlier this year didn’t know it at the time, but their faces were secretly scanned.
Rolling Stone reports that a kiosk set up at the May 18 show had a hidden facial-recognition camera. As fans stood and watched a video of Swift rehearsing for the show, their images were scanned.
The Swift camp was looking for stalkers, according to Rolling Stone.
The images were sent to what the magazine referred to as a “command post” in Nashville. There, the images were compared to a database of “hundreds” of Taylor’s known stalkers, concert security expert Mike Downing, who watched the technology work that night at the concert, told Rolling Stone.
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Taylor’s problems with stalkers are well-documented. Two recent examples cited by Slate: A 38-year-old man with ammunition in his car was arrested outside her L.A. home in April, and a few months later federal authorities arrested a 26-year-old man and charged him with sending letters threatening to kill and rape her.
But this use of technology at her concert — which her spokespeople have not talked publicly about, according to Rolling Stone and other media outlets — raises long-standing concerns about privacy.
“Companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, and they need to make sure any monitoring that they do is really limited to what is strictly necessary to achieve a legitimate aim,” Sarah St. Vincent, a researcher and advocate for Human Rights Watch, told Slate.
“If this company is learning that this person is attending a Taylor Swift concert and maybe stood next to certain other people or went to the bar to get a drink or engaged in other things, that’s data that’s valuable for them to sell.”
She argues that companies should tell people when facial recognition is being used and let them opt out if they want.
Swift is not the first to use the technology in a concert setting. In May, the same month it was used at the Swift concert, facial recognition technology helped Chinese authorities catch three fugitives who attended a concert by pop star Jacky Cheung, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Ticketmaster also announced plans earlier this month to use technology called Blink Identity — said to be able to ID people walking at full speed in less than a second — to help move crowds into concert venues faster, according to Engadget.
But, Engadget wrote, “it’s not clear how that data will be used in the long term. So until these concerns are addressed across the board, people will rightfully be wary of facial recognition technology, regardless of where they are.”