Taylor Swift used facial recognition on her own unwitting fans – but why?

Taylor Swift used facial recognition technology on fans without their knowledge, in an effort to spot known stalkers who may have gained entry to one of her concerts, it has emerged.

In a Rolling Stone report on the future of entertainment technology, a section on Swift revealed that, at a May show, Swift’s team hid cameras within a video wall displaying rehearsal footage.

The cameras relayed footage from the venue – Los Angeles’ Rose Bowl – to a so-called “command post” in Nashville, Tennessee, where the images were cross-referenced against a database showing “hundreds of the pop star’s known stalkers.”

“Everybody who went by would stop and stare at it, and the software would start working,” Mike Downing, chief security officer of Oak View Group, told Rolling Stone.

The clandestine nature of the tests was necessary to ensure stalkers were not tipped off, but there will naturally be concerns that innocent concertgoers were subjected to the surveillance practice without their knowledge.

It will lead to questions of how long the images will remain on file, where they are being stored and who has access to those images. Swift’s representatives did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment. It’s also not clear whether law enforcement agencies or simply Swift’s security team who was involved in these efforts.

Related: Apple Face ID explained

In other high-profile uses of facial recognition technology at recent events, authorities have been more upfront about the deployment.

Prior to the Champions League Final in Cardiff in 2017, police stated beforehand that the controversial tech would be used to identify potential troublemakers. Even that didn’t prevent widespread condemnation from privacy advocates.

In a statement, South Wales Police said the tech was “being tested as proof of concept, in order to determine its potential and feasibility within a challenging, real-world policing environment. It said it wanted to “arm our officers with the very best technology commercially available – providing the public benefit is both proven and justifiable.”

At the time,  Millie Graham Wood of Privacy International expressed concern about the tests.

She said: “We don’t know where the images are going, what they’re checked against, if they’re stored, where they’re stored, the deletion practice, which [private] companies they are using, or what’s the long-term plan to roll it out? How many false positives are there when they run this? How good is the technology and how discriminatory is it?”

Do you think Swift’s team was within their rights to secretly capture fans’ images for these purposes? Drop us a line @TrustedReviews on Twitter.