Facial recognition not coming to Bonnaroo or Austin City Limits music festivals

Fight For The Future wants to make sure that concert venues aren't using facial scanning.

In the past year, major festivals and concerts have toyed with the idea of using facial recognition technology. During her tour stop in Pasadena, California at the Rose Bowl, Taylor Swift set up a kiosk that displayed videos of Reputation Tour rehearsals. Unbeknownst to fans watching the videos, the kiosk doubled as a clever facial recognition tool. It scanned fans’ faces and then sent the data to a Nashville, Tennessee location. There, the photos were cross-referenced against known Taylor Swift stalkers. While the measure is ethically dubious, it is a solution for a real celebrity problem. 

Back in May, Ticketmaster and Live Nation announced that they planned on investing in facial recognition company Blink Identity. The move signaled that the ticketing companies were exploring facial recognition as a replacement for physical and digital passes. As facial recognition technology becomes more ubiquitous, it will undoubtedly rear its head into different industries—like music. However, as companies see the potential of facial recognition, others have already stepped up to prevent its use at shows.

Big Brother at the Big Gig

Earlier this month, nonprofit organization Fight For The Future launched a campaign that seeks to prevent the use of facial recognition in the music industry. It outlines several reasons why companies should ban facial recognition, saying that “facial recognition poses a threat to human society and basic liberty that far outweighs any potential benefits.”

On a dedicated page, the group puts forth the argument that facial recognition presents several red flags. Primarily, facial recognition tech wrongly identifies people a shocking 98 percent of the time. It also disproportionately targets people of color. Finally, the data collected is an easy target for identity thieves and hackers. 

Since Fight For The Future has launched its campaign, artists like Tom Morello, Atmosphere, Downtown Boys, Gramatik, Thievery Corporation, Speedy Ortiz, Amanda Palmer, The Glitch Mob, Jeff Rosenstock, B Dolan, Anti-Flag, Nahko and Medicine for the People, and Laura Stevenson have all expressed support for preventing the use of facial recognition tech at shows.

“I don’t want Big Brother at my shows targeting fans for harassment, deportation, or arrest,” said Tom Morello. “That’s why I’m joining this campaign calling on @Ticketmaster and others not to use #facialrecognition at festivals and concerts.” 

Will The Efforts Work?

So far, Fight For The Future’s campaign seems to be working. The group released a “scorecard” that details festivals around the nation and denotes if they have made statements on integrating facial recognition into events. Festivals like Pitchfork, Lightning in a Bottle, and Bottlerock previously stated that they had no plans on using facial recognition. Now, in an updated list, Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo, Electric Forest, Sonic Bloom, and several others have confirmed that they are not planning on incorporating facial recognition tech in the near future. 

However, question marks still remain for some flagship festivals. Fight For The Future reports that Coachella, EDC Festivals, Life is Beautiful, Lollapalooza, Okeechobee, Outside Lands, Riot Fest, South by Southwest, and Ultra either didn’t respond or did not release a statement on the issue. Ticketmaster and Live Nation did release a joint statement saying that they are not using facial recognition tech currently, but could in the future. 

“Facial recognition surveillance is uniquely dangerous,” says Evan Greer, Fight For The Future’s deputy director. “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.” 

Though there are certainly benefits, a lot of question marks remain about the necessity of facial recognition and its place in society—let alone the festival and music industry. How Ticketmaster and Live Nation push entry technology further while fixing existing problems will be the main hurdle going into the future.