Universal Theme Park Takes Next Step with Facial Recognition

August 3, 2020, 4:36 PM · A Universal Studios theme park is now using a high-tech, automated facial recognition system to identify annual pass and daily ticket holders as they enter the park.

The new system is now in place at Universal Studios Singapore, which is part of the Resorts World Sentosa development.

"Facial recognition provides contactless verification of tickets and ticket holders, enabling our customers to enjoy our park experience in a more efficient and seamless manner," a Resorts World Sentosa spokesperson said. Universal previously had announced that it would use facial recognition for admission to the upcoming Universal Studios Beijing theme park, which opens next year.

A contactless entry process certainly appeals in the Covid-19 era, but an automated facial recognition system offers other potential operational benefits. You wouldn't need to bring a physical ticket with you to the park anymore, for example. Your face is now your ticket. And if the system is robust enough, it could be able to process many more people in an hour than stopping-and-scanning individual guests' tickets, reducing queues at the gate.

But there's that whole privacy and data security thing, of course.

To be honest, theme parks for years have been using facial recognition for annual pass and multi-day ticket holders. They just used a low-tech recognition system - the employee at the front gate looked at the photo on your pass. Universal Studios Singapore's system just automates that process.

With an automated facial recognition program, your data - the imagery of your face - is in the hands of the park rather than in your hands, on your ticket or annual pass. But that's already the case at some parks. At Disneyland, where I am an annual passholder, guest photos are kept on Disney's servers rather than on your AP card or ticket. When the cast member scans your pass, your image shows up on their screen.

Theme parks are hardly the only tourist locations using facial recognition tech. The US Customs and Border Protection agency has been using facial recognition in airports across the country, and some airlines have used the tech in lieu of traditional boarding passes.

Obviously, it's one thing to use automated facial recognition when you're getting on a plane or entering a theme park — places where you expect your identity to be checked. The issue that I suspect most people have with the tech is when it might be used without your knowledge or consent, in places where you don't expect an ID check.

Now, when theme parks are collecting your photo and uploading it to a server somewhere, that could concern people who don't want their image to be available to those who might conduct those unwanted and unannounced automated ID checks. But Resorts World Sentosa, like Disney and other theme park operators, has said that it protects its users' data, including photos, and does not share them with outside parties. And, for many of us, the cat probably left the bag on facial privacy when we got our driver's license or passport photo taken.

Still, guests need to be comfortable with the technology that theme parks and other destinations are using especially when that tech involves guests' identity.

Replies (17)

August 3, 2020 at 6:05 PM

Can't say I immediately love the idea, but the reality is that I've been offering up my fingerprint to the Theme Park industry for years...a picture is actually a lot less private.

August 3, 2020 at 6:32 PM

How well will facial recognition work if people are wearing masks?

August 3, 2020 at 6:46 PM

When you use your fingerprint to get into a theme park it's not actually your fingerprint but a collection of point resulting in a value. That value is matched to a database and when there is a match you are fine. That system isn't great because older or younger guests will have problem due to the skin at the fingertips.
A face-scan (or rather Face ID biometric) doesn't store a photo of your face (like you see on your passport or drivers-license) it stores points on your face that add up to a value that is matched to the database. It's exactly the same thing but without the drawbacks a fingerprint has. Scarfs, sunglasses, hats, face-masks, shawls doesn't wreak the system as mouth or eye locations are only a few of the many points on a face that is read by a camera.
So when you are okay to use your finger you won't have a problem with a face as both systems are exactly the same in concept. Only question I have is how it works with twins.

August 3, 2020 at 7:27 PM

I wonder how many sets of twins it takes to crash the system.

August 3, 2020 at 7:38 PM

The difficulty isn’t storing a photo, because that’s not what’s being stored. The difficulty is when the park starts deploying scanners everywhere, tracking where I shop, where I eat, what I ride, and so on.

And the big issue is security. These companies aren’t security experts; what happens when (not if) that data is hacked? Can it be correlated to other systems that scan for facial data? I think that’s what everyone always forgets. Sure, the companies say they have robust security systems. They don’t. They run hotels and amusement parks; even banks - who arguably should know security better than anyway - get hacked. If theme parks haven’t been hacked, it’s because they had no valuable data to go after. Now they will.

August 4, 2020 at 1:02 AM

Could facial recognition eventually replace Magic Bands? Guests could use it to open the door to their hotel room, enter the parks, redeem FastPasses, use PhotoPass service, spend dining plan credits, buy merch, etc...

August 4, 2020 at 9:04 AM

I don't understand how facial recognition is a breach of privacy. Most facial recognition systems work the same way as fingerprint readers in that certain measurements are taken to identify a person, not laying a picture of your face over a saved picture of your face. Even if a photo of your face was saved, what privacy is being infringed upon even if your face is directly linked to a ticket/season pass in a database? It's not like your face would be linked to a credit card, bank account, or any other personal information, so a company using the technology to verify the identity of its ticket holders increases the security of the transactions, and makes entering the property seamless and touchless. Now, if business start using facial recognition technology to cross-check against police databases and outside agencies (without an issued warrant), then that would be a step too far.

In the end, we're talking about business decisions on private property, and if a company wants to deploy this technology as a way to make their guests and employees safer with a trade off of making it easier to track individual guest flow around the property, then I don't have a problem with it so long as each company's database is self-contained (not shared with other companies/industries), and cannot be viewed by government agencies without a warrant.

August 4, 2020 at 9:25 AM

Like with most things that are intrusive, all they have to do is offer an incentive up front, i.e. a free day at the park if you sign up for facial recognition, and the rest will be history.

August 4, 2020 at 9:47 AM

But what is "intrusive" about taking your picture as you walk onto private property?

August 4, 2020 at 9:54 AM

Given the recent press about the failure of these systems.... are you sure this is a good idea Mr Comcast?

August 4, 2020 at 10:02 AM

@RedCarpet I was thinking the exact same thing! This is not a step in the right direction when everyone is wearing masks. Unless this is a jumping off point to requesting we all get a contactless chip embedded or some sort of mark that can be scanned in order to enter a theme park or make purchases...

August 4, 2020 at 11:21 AM

It's private property so the customer has the choice of whether or not to enter and be subjected to it...So i feel it's their discretion. In public places I have a very different opinion.

August 4, 2020 at 11:35 AM

I don't understand why people have such a problem with biometrics. It will make your screening process go by so much faster. Also, it will be much safer in a health pandemic like what's going on right now. If you aren't doing anything wrong the biometric database can't punish you.

August 4, 2020 at 11:59 AM

"Unless this is a jumping off point to requesting we all get a contactless chip embedded or some sort of mark that can be scanned in order to enter a theme park or make purchases..."

You mean like MagicBand? Even as WDW moves away from MagicBand, cell phones that are rarely separated from their users perform the same function with even more capabilities for Disney to track and manage guests within its parks.

Welcome to the 21st Century AngryDuck - we're glad you've joined us.

August 4, 2020 at 1:23 PM

>> Unless this is a jumping off point to requesting we all get a contactless chip embedded or some sort of mark that can be scanned in order to enter a theme park or make purchases...

I’m sure that was meant in jest, but since there is a lot of nonsense on this...

Such a chip would have to be 1-4cm long (that’s 0.39-1.58 inches for those using freedom units) and 0.7cm wide (just over a quarter of an inch) simply to get the equivalent functionality as a contactless credit cards (you can forget any further transmission/reception than that), Technology can’t solve this size problem, it’s a limitation of physics for the antenna of the chip to be that size or bigger. (Source- Skeptoid podcast)

So any talk of slipping these into your bog standard medical Syringe as conspiracy theorists suggest isn’t happening, ever.

Given the cost to design, make and certify that such an implant is safe, and that were all already carrying around things that do the same job or better - credit cards, phones, etc. It would be a complete waste of time and resources to consider.

>> If you aren't doing anything wrong the biometric database can't punish you.

Don’t be so sure.


August 4, 2020 at 4:29 PM

Minority Report here we come ????????

August 4, 2020 at 4:41 PM

Just my amusing anecdote. They were testing facial recognition in a pretty robust manner last October in the Express Pass lines. Everybody in my party sailed on through but I kept getting held up. Eventually a Team Member showed me the reference photo they were using for me. I was wearing a big, goony smile! So for the rest of the trip I had to put on a big ol’ superobvious smile and I had no further issues. I couldn’t be unhappy about the situation really.

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