In December of last year, Rolling Stone reported that at a Taylor Swift concert at the 2018 Rose Bowl, there was a mysterious kiosk playing clips of the singer that doubled as a facial recognition system to flag any of Swift’s stalkers.
A number of reports covered the alleged kiosk — including Gizmodo — but little was known at the time about the surveillance system. Now we have answers to some key questions about this kiosk, including who was behind it.
ISM Connect, an event marketing and security company specialising in “smart engagement technology”, confirmed to Gizmodo on today that it supplied the kiosk at Swift’s Rose Bowl concert. The company’s connection to the kiosk was first reported by The Guardian today, which cited blog posts and other documentation by the company.
Brian Becker, head of marketing at ISM Connect, told Gizmodo in an email today that Swift’s tour used the company’s tech. When asked if ISM Connect had supplied its kiosk to Swift’s Rose Bowl show, Becker responded: “Yes, Taylor Swift’s tour used ISM Connect technology to improve the fan experience and the safety and security of the event.”
Becker also detailed how the surveillance system, called FanGuard, worked:
We positioned large screens at each of the entrance points in the venues that hosted Taylor’s tour. We were contracted to support security for the tour and on-the-ground venue teams. Each screen also included smart cameras designed to identify only those individuals who present a security risk based on pre-existing information. The cameras are used to reliably identify persons of interest and improve safety. This included known stalkers who might threaten Taylor Swift or present a threat to fans attending the event.
The Guardian reported that ISM Connect had “a series of posts on its website” detailing how the kiosks at the Swift concert worked, but they have reportedly since been taken down.
The posts noted that the kiosks were displayed as “selfie stations” at the concert with Swift trivia and footage on the screens, and were equipped with covert facial recognition cameras, according to The Guardian.
There is still a blog post with a reference to Taylor Swift’s Reputation Tour. ISM Connect wrote that the company had a “Selfie Countdown experience” at the singer’s tour. The screens had both video and still images of Swift and allowed fans to take pictures of themselves with them.
The post doesn’t make any mention of hidden cameras or facial recognition tech, however. Instead, it boasts about how “these selfies acted as promotional vehicles for the tour by creating organic buzz on social platforms”.
While the company doesn’t explicitly state that the kiosks at the Swift concert doubled as surveillance systems, it did publish a blog post about two weeks after the Rolling Stone story (and the subsequent flood of media coverage) titled “Breaking down misconceptions around visual matching within our venue technology”.
The post details how ISM Connect’s facial recognition technology works and paints it as an improvement over the “prior approach” in which “security personnel would review pictures as well as carry picture books of persons of interest (POIs) and attempt to identify them as they walked the event”.
The company writes that it uses smart cameras “located at the entrance points of venues” to identify people of interest. The company claims that no video, images or information about the general public is stored if it isn’t a match. If the system does flag a match, security personnel is given the information.
“No information of the general public is stored or sent to a central command post,” the blog post states.
The original Rolling Stone article’s only source, Oak View Group chief security officer Mike Downing, stated that photos taken by the kiosk at the Rose Bowl were sent to a “command post” in Nashville. Asked to clarify this point, Becker told Gizmodo, “You’d need to get some feedback from her [Taylor Swift’s] team on what they did post identification.”
We were not able to immediately reach Swift’s team for comment.
As for whether fans gave consent for the alleged facial recognition kiosk, the company wrote in the blog post that for its security products, there are signs at venues and on tickets informing fans that they are subject to being recorded.
Quartz reported in December that “concert venues are typically private locations, meaning even after security checkpoints, its owners can subject concert-goers to any kind of surveillance they want, including facial recognition”.
The company also wrote that its technology isn’t deployed in US states with strict laws around filming or biometric analysis. “While being filmed in public places such as shopping malls, transportation centres and convenience stores can be disconcerting,” the post reads, “these actions are done to aid public safety.”