Blink Identity CEO on preserving privacy in a facial recognition ticketing system

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Blink Identity CEO and Co-founder Mary Haskett wants to reassure concert-goers that biometric ticketing systems do not have to be invasive, and further, wants restrictions put in place to protect people from the possible misuse of identity technology.

When Fight for the Future (FFTF) targeted Ticketmaster and its parent company Live Nation with a public campaign against facial recognition, just over a year after the concert and events giant invested in Blink, Blink was already positioning itself as a competitor to Clear in the event-entry application space.

Haskett told Biometric Update in an exclusive email interview that Blink was designed to be a privacy-preserving identity system from the very beginning, and suggests that the criticism is based on incorrect information.

“Since we don’t do any of the things they are implying we do, there isn’t much to say in response,” Haskett writes. “Like FFTF, we are very vocal in our support for restrictions on how government agencies use identity technology — and that’s *any* identity technology.

“We are the only company I’m aware of that has created a system that puts individuals completely in control of their data and how it is used.”

The campaign suggested that the technology could be racially biased, could lead to event attendees having their data entered in a permanent government database or being deported. It says the technology could be used to match fans to their home address and ticket purchase details, and arrest them for minor offences like drug use at the event.

Blink Identity’s architecture has some unusual features to support user privacy, however, and all people in the company’s database are there because they have explicitly opted in, Haskett points out.

“This gives you access to the Blink Identity VIP lane at select venues so you can walk right in without standing in line,” she explains. “Users have total transparency to their data and the ability to delete all of it if they want. We think user data belongs to the user. We hold it for the user and only use it for a single authorized purpose.”

Fears of large-scale data processing and storage are unfounded, Haskett says, because the database is strictly limited, and its information is not sold or shared.

“First and foremost, we don’t connect to other data sources. We can only identify people who have enrolled into Blink Identity by sending us their selfie photograph.”

A shared key allows Blink to inform venues when an enrolled person walks in without sharing any additional information about them. Once that happens, normal access control processes follow for ticket of VIP and back-of-house applications, according to Haskett.

Ultimately, facial recognition can be compatible with personal privacy, Haskett believes, as long as it meets a set of fairly well-established criteria.

“Yes, absolutely. We believe the key is that solutions must be transparent (emphasis Haskett’s), the vendor must be accountable, and participation must be voluntary – just as Blink Identity is,” she says. “A system that is 100 percent transparent and 100 percent voluntary proves that face recognition and privacy are compatible, effective, and worthwhile.”

Haskett declined to comment on reports that Blink Identity’s facial recognition technology could be trialed for a stadium entry system with Manchester F.C., citing a non-disclosure agreement with City Football Club.

She believes the company’s privacy-preserving measures and user experience are among the key attributes that position Blink for success in the fast-growing but still-contentious facial recognition market.

“We put a lot of work into making the entire system fast and easy to use,” Haskett states. “Enrollment is as easy as taking a selfie with a cell phone. Enrollment can be done in seconds, without installing an app. To be identified, users simply walk past our sensor at full speed. We can handle up to 60 people per minute and users don’t have to take any action other than looking the way they are walking.”

Whatever happens, clear communication about what is and is not happening on the back end of the system will be necessary to foster public acceptance. In the meanwhile, the campaign against facial recognition at music festivals will continue, but may fade to obscurity if it is not fueled by related controversies.

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