Facial recognition technology is up and running at Pechanga Arena in San Diego, and set to expand widely through venues operated by ASM Global, according to a recent news release. The technology, powered by PopID, will allow for both venue entry and payment at concession areas.

Biometric facial recognition data launched at Pechanga on April 20, when the Abbotsford Canucks took on the San Diego Gulls in AHL action (a 5-4 win for the visitors, for those interested). The technology is expected to launch “soon” at other arenas, including the Safe Mart Center in Fresno, CA, Toyota Arena in Ontario, Canada, and Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai, UAE. Eventually, it is reportedly planned to go live across ASM’s network of more than 300 arenas, stadiums, theaters, and convention centers worldwide. The integration connects PopID infrastructure to payments terminals and ticketing scanners, with ASM and PopID promising “the most frictionless experiences ever developed.”

“The deployment of this technology in our venues represents the beginning of a revolutionary change in the entertainment world,” said ASM Global CEO and President Ron Bension. “The PopID platform will allow us to eliminate the dependence on cards and phones at our events and ensure that every guest interaction is secure, speedy, and seamless.”

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Biometric data and facial recognition have been a flashpoint for controversy as the technology has been developed, and this instance is no different, particularly given the potential scale it will have if fully deployed. Live Nation and AEG reportedly backed off plans to deploy facial ID systems at their festivals in 2019 after several artists campaigned against their use. Similar pushback against the use of Amazon palm scanning technology for events at Red Rocks in Colorado caused AXS to halt that planned rollout as well.

Opponents cite serious privacy concerns, as well as the potential for data to be misused or even subject to a data breach as the core for their pushback. They say that biometric data – the “most sensitive” data possible given it is inexorably linked to each person and unchangeable – could be targeted by hackers, sold to other companies, or handed over to authorities and used to track any individual without their knowledge. There are also studies that show facial recognition technology to be racially biased, with higher “false match” rates for non-white individuals.

“Using facial recognition at sporting events is a terrible idea,” says Caitlin Seely George, Campaign Director of Fight for the Future, which has opposed biometric data’s use in any live entertainment setting. “No matter what facial recognition companies say, any convenience or purported safety of their “hands free” systems does not outweigh these risks, and installing a tool of mass surveillance in arenas that will be visited by hundreds of thousands of people puts all of our privacy and rights in danger.”

ASM Global did not respond to a request for comment regarding the concerns of privacy advocates like Fight for the Future, but PopID CEO John Miller offered his assurances that their worries were overstated.

PopID is a 100 percent opt-in service and is actually a far more secure way to authenticate purchases and payments,” he said in a statement issued to TicketNews. “To use PopID, you need to sign up through the PopID website and then make a specific action to initiate an authentication (in a number of different ways depending on the use case). Our technology is not used for any form of surveillance and the camera is off until the customer initiates a PopPay transaction to turn it on. For those reasons our customers feel comfort that our facial verification platform is not being used in the aforementioned ways.”

He also says that his company’s system performs far better than the ones that showed such poor results for non-white faces. “We have spent an enormous amount of time and money to ensure our system works seamlessly and equally for all end users,” he says. “This is definitely a focus for PopID and we are very proud of the consistency and accuracy of our algorithms.”

The timeline for the rollout of the PopID systems at other ASM Global locations is unclear. That the first deployment was not announced until it was already live seems an indication of a hope that the program could be up and running before opposition could mount any campaign against its use. This story will be updated with any response from ASM Global if one is received.

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