Tag: SceneTap

SceneTap sparks controversy in San Francisco

SceneTap launched in several Austin bars last January and no one seemed to care all that much.
But at that time, Cole Harper, SceneTap’s CEO, wanted to make sure that we reported correctly on his company’s facial detection technology. He wanted people to know that it does not record identities and merely reports on how many men or women are at a bar at any given time and their ages so patrons could judge whether or not they wanted to join the scene. He was afraid there might be a privacy backlash.
Austin-based SceneTap gathers information from video cameras and collects statistics on the demographics of who’s at a bar. It then compiles the stats into percentages and posts them to a website or mobile app. Consumers can’t see the data associated with the stats to protect privacy.
Here’s the story we wrote at the time of the launch. And as far as I could gauge, the reaction in Austin was not that great. Certainly, no one protested the technology.
But that’s quite a different reaction to SceneTap’s reception in San Francisco. The company launched in several bars there last Friday and dozens of articles have been written about the controversy the so-called Big Brother technology has stirred up there. People have threatened to boycott bars employing the facial detection technology.
And now SF Weekly Blogs is reporting that San Francisco bars are nixing “SceneTap’s Creepy Facial Detection Cameras.”

To address the controversy, Harper has penned a letter to San Francisco. The letter is posted below.

Dear San Francisco,
We’ve taken a lot of heat in the past few days and I can completely understand the concern. I realize there are aspects of our technology that could appear to be controversial and raise serious red flags for people, and I assure you I’m not taking it lightly. I know that up until this point we’ve tried to explain what the app is all about in an attempt to set the record straight, but I owe you more than that.

Criticisms in the past week have broken down into two groups: invasion of privacy and a “creepy” app for men to hunt down women. I do understand how that might be your initial reaction after reading some of the blog posts and articles that talk about the app, so I’d like to take this time to better explain the technology and ease these concerns.

When I started SceneTap with my friend, Marc Doering, our intent was for this to be a lighthearted app for consumers and one that would help venue owners with their marketing efforts. Our first thought was “wouldn’t it be great to know what’s happening somewhere before you waste money on a cab?” To get that info, we could pay a doorman to click a button, but that would get expensive and manipulated quickly, so no go. We could use check-ins, but that would rely too much on users and pull personal information, as other geo-location services do – besides, check-ins would never encompass the entire population of a place, so that would be an incomplete evaluation of the scene.

Then we looked at video-based software, which could automatically translate an image into data. Facial recognition was ruled out for privacy reasons and the complexities of user governance. Facial detection, on the other hand, could only figure out facial features through an algorithm, and estimate, with a high level of accuracy, the gender and age of a person. The technology cannot identify an individual person. Recognition says, “Cole Harper walked in, and he’s a 28 year old male living in Austin with 300 friends on Facebook, and here’s his email.” Detection says, “This person appears similar to a male, age 28.” There’s no personal information collected or transmitted within that data.

Further, we knew that in publicizing any of this data, personal or not, we had a responsibility to present it in a way that protected operators and users. So we decided not to present any individual data either. Everything is shown as a percentage or an average over time. Further, we let venues and users decide on business rules to cap out what statistics would show. Male percentage would never exceed 72%, because that would negatively impact the perception of the venue (based on feedback). Female percentage would never exceed 58%, because it may create a “correction” from a swarm of males showing up. In almost a year, we’ve never had any complaints or concerns expressed from a user on the way we display this information (although operators do want to show a higher number of females and a lower number of males, for obvious reasons).

Back to the “video-based” software. Here’s the thing – there are no videos or images stored at any time. Once the data is triggered, the images are overwritten, deleted, gone. There are no tapes. There is no video feed either. No one can go to www.scenetap.com and see what is happening. It’s all data and numbers – that’s it. And since we’re only focused on the door, you’re free to do keg stands and dance like Bernie or hit on that bartender all you want – we do not track you in the venue.

Unfortunately, I think I underestimated the controversial aspects of this technology and what the public’s reaction would be. I know it’s hard to just take me at my word on this, so that’s why I’ve been trying to explain how the technology works in an attempt to put everyone at ease.

Because this is such a serious issue, we’ve been working with Congress, the FTC, and privacy advocate groups to further the privacy agenda as the world becomes increasingly filled with these types of cameras. I’ve also heard your suggestions about working with organizations like the EFF, and it’s something I’m going to explore because I want to make sure that you feel that your personal privacy is always respected.

At the end of the day, there isn’t a way to use SceneTap to go out and target specific women (or men) – all you can do is find out where there are more women or men of a certain age range. The “crowd size” has been most universally used in the decision on where to go, which has nothing to do with the gender/age component. For us, it’s about helping locals and tourists alike find the place that’s right for them. We aim to be more like an objective Yelp, a real-time Zagat…a tool to help you make your decision.

While gender is an interesting novelty, most of our users report using the app to find the scene that is right for them. For some people, it’s finding a bar that’s super packed with young people. For others it’s finding a less crowded bar where you know you’ll get a table or can chat on a date. I actually use the app more to find a place to watch a game with friends or the place with the good food/drink specials, so long as it isn’t dead.

I hope this helps to explain some things for everyone. I really do understand the concerns, but I want to assure you that we are working closely with both the government and the industry leaders to ensure that everyone’s privacy is protected. I think San Francisco is a great city full of passionate, smart people, and you know your technology and social media better than anyone else. I’m glad you’re challenging SceneTap and keeping us on our toes. You’ve given me some very serious things to consider, and you’ve helped me to see that I need to address the potential flaws in my business (perceived or actual) if I want this company to succeed.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at charper@scenetap.com . Things will be crazy with the launch over the next few days, but I will personally take time to respond to everyone who reaches out to me as quickly as possible.


Cole Harper
CEO, SceneTap

Six Austin Startups to Compete at SXSW Accelerator

South by Southwest Interactive announced today the 48 companies that will participate in its SXSW Accelerator program this year.
SXSW received applications from more than 670 companies and selected 48 companies to present in the fourth-annual SXSW Accelerator, sponsored by Microsoft BizSpark.
The SXSW Accelerator competition takes place on Monday, March 12 and Tuesday, March 13 at the Hilton hotel in downtown Austin.
Six Austin companies made the cut including SceneTap, Hoot.me, Umbel, Foreca.st, Toopher and Tugg.

ATI helps recruit 13 new companies to Austin in 2011

In 2011, 13 companies moved to Austin with the assistance of the Austin Technology Incubator’s Landing Pad Program.
The companies included Amatra, BlackLocus, Convergence Wireless, Digital Harmony Games, Drivve, DXUp Close, SceneTap, Social Muse, Tactical Information Systems and V-Chain Solutions. Also, Ben Dyer, a serial entrepreneur, moved here from Atlanta with TechDrawl, and has since helped NightRaft and BeHome247 relocate here, according to this news release.
The Austin Technology Incubator’s Landing Pad Program helps companies relocate to Austin or establish headquarters here. It focuses on early-stage high technology companies in the biosciences, clean energy, wireless and IT industries. The nonprofit incubator is part of the IC2 Institute of the University of Texas at Austin.
“We are so proud of the business environment that exists in Austin, all the right ingredients for success, but via a supportive, community approach,” Robert Reeves, ATI’s director of IT and wireless, said in a news statement.
“ATI has always been focused on finding, welcoming, integrating and helping make successful new technology companies, whether from Austin or not,” Eve Richter, the city’s emerging technologies coordinator, said in a news statement. “Over the past few years, the Landing Pad concept has brought two dozen companies to town, and we are so thrilled ATI has really taken the program up a notch, formalizing it in 2011. The City of Austin is proud to support ATI in all efforts, including the Landing Pad Program.”

SceneTap launches in Austin bars today

SceneTap wants you to know what’s going on at your favorite bar before you get there.
Today, the startup officially launches a network of cameras in 30 bars around Austin including Soho Lounge, Trophy Club, Haven, Ranch and Library that feed real-time information into its SceneTap mobile phone app and website. The network will expand to up to 50 bars with the next few months.
“It’s probably going to go beyond bars to other venues like coffee shops, retail outlets and restaurants,” said Cole Harper, co-founder and CEO of SceneTap. “It’s our goal to let people know what’s going on in their favorite place.”
With the SceneTap mobile phone application, which is available for free, people can survey the crowd and see how many men and women are at a particular bar. They can also find out what specials are being offered and what band or DJ is playing.
SceneTap gathers information from video cameras and collects statistics on the demographics of who’s there. It then compiles the stats into percentages and posts them to the site. Consumers can’t see the data associated with the stats to protect privacy, Harper said
The SceneTap app can tell you whether a bar is 85 percent full and the male to female ratio along with the average age of the patrons. The company uses facial detection software to compile these statistics.
“We’re not collecting any individual information,” Harper said. “There’s no information that’s collected or stored. People can’t see individual records.”
SceneTap aggregates its information every half hour and does not store any footage from the bars, Harper said
“It’s entirely automated. The video stream is being perpetually interpreted by the software, which creates rows of data,” Harper said. “The main purpose behind the data is to let you know where the best party is at.”
The data also lets the bars know whether they are spending their money wisely on entertainment to get customers in the door. If a bar spends $300 for a DJ and several hundred people show up then they’ll be able to track stats on the success of their promotions, Harper said.
The main way SceneTap makes money is through advertising. It has 45,000 users currently, which it hopes will rise to 50,000 tonight. It offers companies a very targeted market, Harper said.
The average bar last four years and night clubs last just two and a half years, Harper said. SceneTap can give the owners of these establishments real-time data on their bars and clubs that help them to manage them better, he said.
SceneTap launched in Chicago in December of 2010 and raised nearly $2 million in a seed fund from friends, family and angel investors. SceneTap is currently negotiating with investors to raise at least $3 million in a series A round, which it hopes to close in the next 60 to 90 days.
“We expect we’ll have some rapid growth in next six to twelve months” Harper said.
More than 50 venues in the Chicago area use SceneTap and plans for another 20 in coming months. The company moved to Austin late last year. Its headquarters are in house near Zilker Park where five of the guys live and work. SceneTap has 16 employees and another 30 sales consultants nationwide.
Within the next six months, SceneTap plans to expand into other markets including Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Atlanta, Phoenix, San Diego and San Francisco.
Privacy is one issue that Scene Tap takes very seriously, Harper said.
“We go well out of our way to ensure consumer privacy,” he said. “Our technology, as scary as it may seem, is less intrusive than a lot of technologies that have been out there in the last 10 years.”
The advantage is that a tourist visiting Austin can either go to Yelp and find a review of a bar or check out SceneTap and find out what’s happening there right now, Haper said.

Round-up of recent tech news in Silicon Hills

Are you wonder struck over the amount of money, deals and companies flowing into the Austin area?
It’s exciting times in the Silicon Hills, the high-tech region of Austin and San Antonio.
Not only is Austin, which is known for its start-up culture and high-technology ventures, taking off like a shotgun blast, but San Antonio’s tech entrepreneurial scene has begun to bubble up to the surface like Texas crude.
So much has happened in just the past week that it’s difficult to keep on top of all the activity. So we’ve rounded up the best deals below and if we’ve left anything off, please add to it in the comments section.
San Antonio-based Rackspace Hosting Inc. has opened up satellite offices in Silicon Valley. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote a nice story about their new offices. The official opening is Dec. 1, but already employees, including Uber-blogger Robert Scobel, who runs Building 43, a technology site that specializes in video interviews with technology entrepreneurs, have moved in.
Meanwhile, Geekdom, a new collaborative workspace at the Weston Centre in downtown San Antonio, continues to host events including 3 Day Startup San Antonio and Start-up Ignite’s Hack-a-thon.
In Austin, Evernote’s CEO Phil Libin flew in to open the company’s first U.S. satellite office in the Bridgepoint Parkway Office Complex. It’s hiring a bunch of people for the Austin operations too.
Speaking of moving to town, the Austin American Statesman reported that SceneTap, a social media app for bar patrons, announced plans to relocate its operations from Chicago to Austin.
And BlackLocus, an e-commerce pricing analysis company, announced Austin as the headquarters of its company, which recently graduated from the LaunchPad program at the Austin Technology Incubator.
Meanwhile, Rapid 7, an online security firm, just landed $50 million in funding and will use the proceeds, in part, to expand its Austin operations
And ServiceMesh, a Santa Monica-based cloud platform maker, has raised $15 million and plans to expand its Austin operations, according to this story by Lori Hawkins of the Austin American Statesman.
Capital Factory graduate, WPEngine closed $1.2 million in series A financing, according to this post from Bryan Mennel at Austin Startup.
Last, but not least, SXSW continues to release a bunch of news about next year’s Interactive conference. The deadline for entering your start-up into its SXSW Accelerator is today. It was actually Friday, but SXSW, which often extends deadlines at the last minute, pushed it until today. So if you’re a totally procrastinator, get your application in now.
Tech Ranch Austin’s next Venture Forth program begins Nov. 29, and full disclosure SiliconHillsNews is going to be participating in the program. Tech Ranch still has a few openings left, but it’s limited to 15 entrepreneurs.

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