Musicians and Activists Speak Out Against Ticketmaster’s Investment in Facial Recognition Technology

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Musicians and Activists Speak Out Against Ticketmaster’s Investment in Facial Recognition Technology

Fight For the Future, a nonprofit digital rights group that is campaigning to ban facial recognition software as a law enforcement tool, launched a new campaign Tuesday focusing on the use of the technology at concerts and festivals. Their efforts are gaining traction with prominent musicians across social media speaking out against Ticketmaster’s investment in the technology.

The Verge reported in 2018 that Live Nation and Ticketmaster had invested in Blink Identity, a company specializing in military-grade facial recognition software. The conglomerate announced the partnership as part of a report of Live Nation’s first-quarter 2018 earnings, citing “cutting-edge facial recognition technology, enabling you to associate your digital ticket with your image, then just walk into the show.” Blink, whose team has spent the last 10 years working with the Department of Defense in the Middle East, proudly declare that their primary appeal is their ability to identify people in motion. Their technology identifies people in “a blink!” as they walk past a sensor, without stopping to look directly into a camera.

“Privacy First Facial Recognition Is Here,” Blink proclaims, which is nothing if not an oxymoron. Nonetheless, the company explains that their systems are voluntary and that participants would have to upload a selfie to enroll, which would then converted into a mathematical template and cannot be converted back into a photograph. When entering a venue, Blink would not be able to identify attendees unless they walk through a clearly marked Blink Identity line.

Enrolling in a facial recognition system might be voluntary, but it’s questionable whether these technologies should exist at all. Though Ticketmaster has not yet announced plans to implement Blink’s technology, by investing in such opt-in programs for ticketed events, they are setting a dangerous precedent for the normalization of constant facial recognition in the future. Blink’s unsettling services indeed go beyond event admission. They suggest that concertgoers purchase drinks and merch “using their face,” and note that commercial buildings could use their technologies to “monitor employee location and space utilization 24/7.” And of course, it’s “possible to collect usable and sharable data on each person” identified by their system.

If facial recognition technology is implemented at concerts and events, Fight For the Future explains, it will pose a number of startling risks to privacy and safety that extend far beyond getting you into the show. One involves the limitations of the technology itself: People of color are disproportionately poorly identified by facial recognition software, which puts fans of color in danger of being misidentified and harassed by venue security or law enforcement. Fans’ faces and names could end up in permanent government databases, meaning they could be identified as undocumented immigrants or and arrested for outstanding minor charges. Yet another hazardous outcome would be the ability to match faces with home addresses and financial information. Though facial recognition technology isn’t yet in wide use, the arrest of a man wanted for “financial crimes” at a pop concert in China and the striking inaccuracy of such technologies present compelling reasons to make sure it never gets there.

Hunting for your tickets is annoying. Surely we can agree that having your face in a Ticketmaster database for the rest of your life is way, way worse—and musicians and activists are fighting back. “Facial recognition surveillance is uniquely dangerous. It doesn’t keep fans or artists safe, it just subjects them to invasive, racially biased monitoring that will inevitably lead to fans getting harassed, falsely arrested, deported, or worse,” says Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, in a statement. “We’re calling on all all artists to stick up for their fans’ basic rights and safety by speaking out against the use of Big Brother style biometric surveillance at live music events.”

Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Amanda Palmer, Downtown Boys, Anti-Flag and others have spoken up to support the campaign on Twitter:

You can learn more about Fight For the Future’s campaign here. Below, check out Morello and Palmer’s Paste Studio sessions.