What caused ire among SceneTap’s critics was the company’s patent application. It lists theoretical designs for expansion that could include a facial recognition program that, with the help of records such as state crime databases and social networking site profiles, would be used to conduct real-time criminal background checks and provide information on occupations and income levels of bar patrons.
“Patent applications are the dreams of lawyers,” says Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard Law School professor and cofounder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. “They’re lawyers’ playgrounds, where they can speculate and use their imaginations on every possible future use or expansion of something their client’s doing now, whether or not the client has any interest in that [expansion] in the future.”
Harper says privacy concerns with SceneTap are unfounded, because facial detection software is not capable of collecting any personally identifying information. And unlike Facebook, SceneTap has no database that users can access.
“We don’t even have a database that we can access. We don’t save information gathered on the detection readers,” Harper says.
The appeal of SceneTap to bar owners is that if it is accurate, it allows them to track crowds in real time and keep a digital record of what types of people are visiting their venues and when. It could also help them figure out why slow, low-revenue nights happen.
“This application provides simple but amazing customer analytics,” says Bill Fairweather, owner of The Greatest Bar, near TD Garden. “And in the past — up till now — if you wanted that stuff you had to sort of record it by hand, sit after the fact and study security footage, things like that.”
Follow James Burnett on Twitter @JamesBurnett.