Report: 30,000 college football fans unknowingly captured by facial-recognition test at Rose Bowl

Over 30,000 fans who attended the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., this past January were being watched before they even got to their seats because their features were captured by facial-recognition software from a company called VSBLTY.

As fans showed up to see the Oregon Ducks take on the Wisconsin Badgers, there were four hidden cameras underneath digital signs near the FanFest activity area that were secretly scooping up data on those who passed by, according to OneZero.

Cameras reportedly analyzed their age, gender, if they were carrying a weapon or not, and if they were on any government watch lists. One of the fans who was surveilled spoke with OneZero and said he was not given any advanced notice that he was being filmed.

“I actually had no idea they were using that type of tech at the game, nor was I informed that I would be recorded or analyzed by such tech,” Benjamin Mercke of California told OneZero. “Actually, that’s incredibly concerning to me.”

VSBLTY, based in Philadelphia, issued a statement calling the exercise \an audience study,\ which helped obtain data that would be used to enhance the consumer experience.


\Traffic count and other venue data collected, when combined with machine learning, can help improve operational efficiencies and venue logistics. Facts about fans, their habits and actions—in addition to demographic and psychographic information—will help plan audience activities as well as serve as a tool to validate the value of on-site advertising impressions to sponsors,\ the statement read.

\High tech video cameras combined with video display signage were strategically placed in front of the stadium where pre-bowl game fan activities were staged to collect key audience information through signage analytics,\ the message continued. \Along the pathway to the stadium, four cameras were deployed at different locations among “Fan Fest” activities that included two FESCO units displaying archived videos of Rose Bowl legendary players and advertising messaging.\

The statement concluded by championing the combination of personal habits and data with artificial intelligence, to interact with consumer audiences on a more direct level.

\The strategic use of digital signage paired with machine learning and artificial intelligence to understand how audiences act and react is proving to be one of the most important and effective audience analytics tools for sports and entertainment venues as well as transportation hubs and other public places,\ the company wrote.

This news comes just one day after Microsoft President Brad Smith said they\’d be following in Amazon\’s footsteps and not sell facial-recognition tools to U.S. police departments until Congress passes a law clarifying the matter.


Smith was speaking with \The Washington Post Live\ and expressed concerns about such technology being unleashed upon the public, especially given the current chaos in major cities.

\We have been focused on this issue for two years,\ he explained. “We’ve decided that we will not sell facial-recognition technology to police departments in the United States, until we have a national law in place, grounded in human rights, that will govern this technology.\

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