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Facial recognition technology flies under the radar in stadiums

Oblivious crowds are having their faces scanned by always-watching cameras.

Oblivious crowds are having their faces scanned by always-watching cameras. Photo: Getty

Next time you’re heading into a stadium to see your favourite singer or sporting team … smile! You’re probably on camera.

An investigation by Choice has found facial recognition technology is being used at a number of major Australian stadiums, often without people’s knowledge or consent. 

Through analysis of the privacy policies and conditions of entry statements of 10 stadiums and stadium operators, Choice found many allowed for the use of facial recognition technology without specifying exactly where and how it is used. 

These include:

  • Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney
  • Allianz Stadium, Sydney
  • Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
  • Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne.

It’s unclear whether the technology is being used at Perth’s RAC Arena and Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.

Both are operated by ASM Global, whose privacy policy says facial recognition software may be used when available at the venues – but doesn’t confirm whether the technology is being put into use at the venues.

Stadiums that Choice has confirmed don’t use facial recognition software include:

  • Accor Stadium, Sydney
  • CommBank Stadium, Sydney
  • Marvel Stadium, Melbourne
  • Optus Stadium, Perth.

“It is extremely concerning that facial recognition technology is being used at major concert and sporting venues across the country, without any kind of clear information for consumers about where, how and why it is being used,” Choice consumer data advocate Kate Bower said.

Choice’s findings come just days after more than 100 musical artists in America – including Rage Against the Machine co-founders Tom Morello and Zack de la Rocha – announced a boycott of any concert venue that uses facial recognition technology over privacy and discrimination concerns.

Facial recognition technology at iconic venues such as Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall drew attention after being used to identify and kick out lawyers affiliated with ongoing lawsuits against the venues.

Concerns over major Sydney arena

Choice singled out the use of the technology at Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena as a particular concern, as the arena is owned by Ticketek’s parent company TEG, which is “one of the biggest players in the Australian data brokering space”.

Lizzo, Sam Smith and Disney On Ice are among the acts to have played at the 21,000-capacity venue.

In 2021, TEG launched Ovation to provide data-led marketing and technology solutions for live entertainment and sports industries.

At the time of the launch, TEG said Ovation combined 20 years of data modelling with the largest first-party data assets in Australia and New Zealand, boasting more than 16 million members and a consumer research panel of more than one million.

facial recognition

Visitors to Qudos Bank Arena can know facial recognition technology is in use – if they find the time to read through a laundry list of conditions of entry. Photo: Choice

“TEG is not clear on how and why they collect and use facial recognition data, leaving the door open for harmful selling and sharing of sensitive biometric information,” Ms Bower said.

“Qudos can hold up to 21,000 people and is set to host a number of big events this year alone, including Lizzo, Sam Smith and Disney on Ice.

“The amount of biometric data that potentially could be collected, stored and shared by TEG just in 2023 is massive.”

Qudos has said it alerts attendees to the use of facial recognition through digital signage and conditions of entry, but Choice determined these signs were hard to find and difficult to read.

The signage also doesn’t mention how the information is stored, shared or used. 

Calls to toughen up regulation

Following its investigation, Choice is calling for stronger regulation of facial recognition to protect against harmful and invasive use of the technology. 

“Stadiums are places where many people, including children, gather to have fun and make memories. If facial recognition is being used in these venues, people should have the choice to opt in or out,” Ms Bower said.

“Instead, any details regarding the use of this technology are usually buried deep in a privacy policy or conditions of entry.

“Clear guidelines are needed to ensure safe and responsible use of facial recognition technology, and to hold businesses to account when they are using this controversial technology inappropriately or dangerously.”

This is not the first time use of facial recognition software in Australian stadiums has come under the spotlight.

In 2019, Stadiums Queensland confirmed facial recognition technology was being trialled at select venues, and the data was being shared with police, without any warning signs apart from standard CCTV signage.

“At this time, such software is only being used to identify patterns and anomalies in crowd behaviour, such as abandoned bags and long queues,” a Stadiums Queensland spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia.

The use of facial recognition technology in Australia has become more widespread over recent years, with retailers in particular catching heat for their use of the software.

Last year, Choice found more than three-quarters of Australians were unaware retailers such as Kmart, Bunnings and The Good Guys were using facial recognition technology.

This led to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner launching an investigation into the personal information handling practices of Bunnings and Kmart – The Good Guys had already paused its use of the technology after preliminary inquiries from the privacy watchdog.

Bunnings and Kmart paused their use of facial recognition technology in stores amid the investigation.

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