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The Boston Globe

Editorial

editorial

SceneTap: Nightlife app or loan application?

The smartphone revolution can make even nightlife more efficient. If a simple app spares clubgoers from paying a $20 cover to enter a venue that turns out to be empty, and helps club owners figure out how to prevent slow nights, then there’s value to it. But when the goal is to enjoy the company of friends, or meet someone new, it’s possible to be too businesslike — as is evident from the controversy around a new app called SceneTap.

As a recent Globe story noted, the start-up that makes the app has put up facial-detection cameras in more than local 30 bars and uses software to assess the number of people present, their approximate average age, and the ratio of women to men.

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Even that level of data, though useful to some clubgoers, makes others worry about being set upon by throngs of creeps. Meanwhile, the company’s patent application hints at farther-reaching plans, such as using facial-recognition software and various databases to estimate clubgoers’ occupations and income levels.

As a technical matter, this may be wishful thinking on the company’s part. But if it comes to pass, yikes! At best, such innovations remove the serendipity from a night on the town. Going out to a club shouldn’t feel like applying for a mortgage.

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