Could Facial Recognition At Music Festivals Be The Dystopian Future We’re All Dreading?

Published on September 11, 2019

Ticketmaster, the ticketing company invested in virtually every music festival in the country, recently made the controversial announcement that it will be implementing facial recognition in lieu of having concertgoers scan tickets to get into events and venues. While this level of technology presents a lot of benefits—safety and the comfort of not having to keep track of a physical ticket, to name a few—it also presents major drawbacks when the question of invasive business practice and privacy violation comes into play.

The company—which operates under its parent, Live Nation—announced last year that it would be investing in facial recognition technology that would allow for its concertgoers to access events through facial scans rather than with tickets. “We will continue investing in new technologies to further differentiate Ticketmaster from others in the ticketing business. It is very notable that today we announce our partnership with, and investment in, Blink Identity which has cutting-edge facial recognition technology, enabling you to associate your digital ticket with your image, then just walk into the show,” said the company in its Q1 investor call in 2018.

Critics of the investment have since expressed concern that the technology would also be used to monitor concertgoers at events throughout the venue. Government officials could then use the technology to identify suspects and make arrests based on illicit activity that happens at the venue, monitoring patrons to identify criminal activity in real time. While that could be good for identifying potential acts of terrorism or physical misconduct, the majority of the concern is that it would monitor petty crimes such as drug use or underage drinking. In communities of music fans, this could also pose a threat of deportation if facial recognition identifies a crime executed by an immigrant.

Musicians and Industry Workers Call For No Facial Recognition At Events

We’re still quite far away from a reality where facial recognition is the norm at every live music event in the country (save for San Francisco, which has banned the technology). However, it’s already being implemented in some of Live Nation’s high profile events. Taylor Swift, for example, used the technology at her Rose Bowl performance as a precaution last December. The technology was used to identify Swift’s apparent known stalkers.

A website organized by Fight For The Future surfaced in the wake of the revelation, going viral on social media this week. The website, called “Ban Facial Recognition At Live Shows” aims to raise awareness on the issue and discuss the potential threats to privacy that all concertgoers face while facial recognition is used in the live music industry. Since Live Nation owns or has footing in much of the nation’s biggest music festivals, eventgoers are concerned that the technology is too invasive.

Musicians and other members of the music industry have spoken out against the use of facial recognition at events as well. Artists and groups like The Glitch Mob and Atmosphere have spoken out against it, spreading the Fight For The Future campaign on their respective social media pages.

Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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