Over the last week, an app has been launched in San Francisco that has come under the spotlight of many concerned with privacy issues. But SceneTap founder and CEO Cole Harper is attempting to quell the uproar over the technology.
Harper and co-founder Marc Doering developed the idea for SceneTap as a way to provide users with an understanding of what’s happening at their favorite places without even being there and to provide venue owners a way to measure both their marketing and promotional efforts.
The app uses anonymous facial detection software inside a venue, approximating the age and gender of patrons. It also counts the number of people entering and leaving, which gives users and business owners a better sense of the crowd size at any given time. “We developed the idea after spending way too much on cab fare searching for the place that fit what we were looking for,” said Harper.
Many in the Bay Area expressed concern over personal privacy when it launched in venues last week, calling it too much like “big brother.” Harper wrote a personal letter on SceneTap’s website addressed to San Francisco, explaining that the product was in fact not collecting any personal information whatsoever. “Our app does not identify individuals or record or store personal information. It’s actually less intrusive than paying a bill with a credit card,” he said. “We’ve refined our message to let people know that we’ve acknowledged their concerns and affirmed that no part of the technology is collecting personal information,nothing is being recorded and nothing is streamed for viewing.”
Part of the problem has been the media headlines, which termed the app as among other things, “creepy.”
“A few (venues) expressed concern over some comments online and calls from upset customers, but all were related to a misinterpretation of nationally accepted technologies. SceneTap has yet to lose a single venue that has experienced our service in full effect,” Harper said. “The venues (in San Francisco) that opted out did so while communicating a desire to rejoin the network once the negative buzz from customers wound down.”
Despite the controversy over the app, Harper said they have already gained over 15,000 users in the San Francisco market and have a number of requests for the technology from venue owners in not only San Francisco, but Oakland, San Jose, Palo Alto and Menlo Park as well.
Along with San Francisco, SceneTap is currently live in Chicago, Austin, Gainesville, Athens, Madison and Bloomington. Each city was chosen based on its “unique nightlife atmosphere” as well as connections on the ground and geographical relevance. Harper said they are on track to be in over 20 significant markets and 35 college markets by the summer of 2013