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Tech Company Says Using Facial Recognition Technology in Bars Isn't Creepy at All

DataSparQ also hopes to roll out a feature called 'FaceTab,' which would recognize patrons and automatically add drinks to their existing tab.

by Jelisa Castrodale
Aug 2 2019, 11:00am

Photo: Getty Images

The Harrild & Sons bar in London describes its basement cocktail club, 5cc, as "our little secret down below." But 5cc Harrild & Sons has a little secret of its own: It's using facial recognition software to keep an eye on its customers, make sure they're old enough to have a pint, and ensure that they're not shoving people out of the way before they order their next round.

Well, it's probably more accurate to say that 5cc Harrild & Sons had a little secret, because DataSparQ, the company that designed the software, is talking about how it worked during a recent trial at the bar.

According to The Telegraph, the artificial-intelligence-powered system was used to scan drinkers' faces, use biometric data to determine whether they looked younger than 25, and then prompt the bartender to ask for ID. The company also claims that its tech speeds up wait times, because it automatically assigns a number to each customer so the 'tenders can just look at an iPad screen to determine who's next.

"Queuing is a part of British life that we all have to endure—but we wanted to do something to improve the experience," John Wyllie, DataSparQ's managing director, said in a statement. “It’s the uncertainty of waiting times alongside queue jumpers that’s adversely affecting consumer behaviors in bars and pubs. The AI Bar ensures it’s a hassle free, first come, first served system that makes ordering drinks more convenient for both drinkers and bar staff alike."

In the future, the company hopes to roll out a slightly unnerving feature called the 'FaceTab,' which would recognize patrons and automatically add their second (or third) round of drinks to their existing tab.

Privacy advocates aren't exactly delighted about the concept—even though DataSparQ insists that all IDs and images are deleted at the end of the night, and no customer data is ever permanently stored. "The British pub is an institution and as long as our pubs are properly staffed there is no need for these surveillance-gimmicks," Silkie Carlo, the director of Big Brother Watch, said. "You might expect AI queue control and 'face tabs' in China, but not in Britain. I would expect a lot of punters will stop drinking in such bleak and anodyne environments."

Wyllie hopes that DataSparQ will soon be able to take this system nationwide, both in bars and at larger-scale events like music festivals. Some regulars are already willing to give it a chance, especially the ones who are tired of ending up in a strange dude's armpit as he climbs over you on the way to the bar.

"I shouldn't have to get into a confrontation with strangers just to order a drink," one frequent customer told DataSparQ. "With this new technology, that's something I never have to worry about again."

But if you've watched, like, one episode of Black Mirror, you know there's probably a ton of other shit we should worry about instead.