Are you ready for facial recognition at concerts? It’s (probably) going to happen

A facialrRecognition system concept.
A facialrRecognition system concept. Getty Images

It’s an annoying part of the concert-going experience: lining up at the doors in the heat/cold/rain waiting for someone to scan/take/tear your ticket. It’s not so bad if the venue is small, but if you’re trying to get into an arena and stadium, that’s a different story. Even if each ticket holder can be processed in five seconds, it still takes forever to get everyone through the doors.

The live music industry feels your pain, but maybe not in the same way. A company called Blink Identity has a plan to turn your face into your concert ticket.

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In a press release issued last week, the firm (headed up by a former biometric specialist for the U.S. Department of Defence), announced the raising of another US$1.5 million to invest in the development of facial recognition technology.

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It works like this. When someone buys a ticket online, the buyer can opt to have a selfie taken. That photograph is then stored in a database that will be used for that particular show. Using Blink Identity’s AI-enable cameras, those who purchase admission this way will be able to walk past sensors at full walking speed. Concertgoers, selfies, and purchase data will be instantly matched allowing admission without the hassle of having a ticket scanned.

Like I said, your ticket will be your face. Cool, right?

The live music industry loves this idea a lot, which is why Live Nation/Ticketmaster is an investor in Blink Identity. Here’s why they like it:

A more efficient entrance process. While some fans will still need to have their tickets/barcodes/QR codes scanned the old-fashioned way, the new technology will make it a lot faster for others to get into the gig. No more long lines.

It will cut down on scalping. Fans who agree to the facial recognition route will have that admission purchase locked to their image. If the face doesn’t match the selfie in the database, you’re not getting in. This could be the solution the industry is looking for when it comes to the issue of transferring a ticket from a scalper/secondary seller to someone else. Ticket-buying bots, of course, don’t have faces.

Possible cashless transactions inside the venue. Load up your account with credits and you theoretically could buy everything you need — beer, food, merch — just by glancing at a camera. That would speed things up, wouldn’t it?

Security. What’s to stop a venue from putting these cameras all over the place to track where patrons go and do? Given how paranoid we’ve become about going to public events (and in some cases, justifiably so), this sort of surveillance could be valuable.

But this also raises issues of privacy and personal security.

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Will concertgoers agree to have their mug shots in a database in exchange for less time standing in line? Who else will have access to these photos? How long do those selfies stay in the database? What measures will be enacted to make sure there are no leaks or abuses of these pictures? Will people be comfortable knowing that they could be identified by these cameras at any point in the evening?

(If you’re paranoid about being tracked, there is an option. Experiments suggest that if you wear makeup like the Insane Clown Posse or KISS, the cameras get confused.)

Critics of this technology point to a situation in China this past April. A 31-year-old man identified only as “Mr. Ao” was wanted by authorities for unspecified “economic crimes.” Somehow, it was determined that there was a good chance Mr. Ao was going to attend an April concert by pop star Jackie Cheung in Nanchang. But how would anyone be able to pick him out of a crowd of 60,000 people?

Several cameras equipped with facial recognition technology were posted at entrances to the venue. When Mr. Ao and his wife tried to enter the show, the software correctly identified him and he was arrested soon after he made it to his seat.

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Another fugitive was apprehended at another Jackie Cheung show in the city of Jiaxing in May. A man named Yu went to the gig and was spotted by cameras in the area where security checks are conducted. He was nailed and charged with not paying for $17,000 worth of potatoes back in 2015.

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This isn’t the first time this technology was used in a crime sweep. Last August, 25 suspects in other crimes were arrested at the Qingdao International Beer Festival using the same technology. One of those captured had been on the run for 10 years.

China is a world leader in facial recognition software and makes it very clear to its citizens that they’re always watching, so any attempt to evade the authorities is futile. The country already has 170 million CCTV cameras and is on its way to building what it called “the world’s biggest camera surveillance network” with 400 million units to be installed by 2021.

Mind you, there’s a big difference between the actions of an authoritarian state and not wanting to stand in line longer than you have to. Then again, these slopes tend to get more and more slippery.

One last piece of advice: If you’re on the lam in China, don’t go to a Jackie Cheung concert.

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Alan Cross is a broadcaster with 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for Global News.

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