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.
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