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Crowd-detection app SceneTap tries to allay privacy fears after rocky San Francisco launch

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SceneTap, a social app that detects facial characteristics that suggest age and gender using cameras mounted in bars, has published an open letter to allay privacy fears after complaints over its San Francisco launch.


SceneTap, the analytics and social app that detects facial characteristics to determine the age, gender, and number of patrons using cameras mounted in bars, has dealt with privacy concerns before, but it's never experienced the kind of backlash it did in San Francisco. The app was supposed to launch today in 25 San Francisco bars, but CEO Cole Harper tells AllThingsD that ten of those have now dropped out after angry calls and an editorial that called the service "creepy." In an open letter to the city, he defended SceneTap, which does not store or send video data. "Once the data is triggered, the images are overwritten, deleted, gone. There are no tapes. There is no video feed either." It also "cannot identify an individual person," making it different from standard facial recognition cameras.

People have also criticized the app for its gender filtering options, letting people find bars with a larger proportion of men or women in a certain age range. Cole says that while the SceneTap news feed may focus on bars that have attracted more women, gender is only an "interesting novelty" to app users, who prefer to search for a specific size of crowd or a group around their age. He admits that bars "want to show a higher number of females and a lower number of males, for obvious reasons," but bars can cap the statistics they show to some extent.

Harper blames most of the complaints over SceneTap on media-generated misinformation and believes that as the app launches, the added publicity may even help his business. "It's really the press creating the perception that the venue is doing something wrong... As people download the app or visit the website, they'll start to see that this is actually a very cool, fun, entertaining application."