We’ve all seen it, and some of us have lived it: A bar patron mouths off to a bouncer, tags a wall, gets in a fight, or is just too drunk and disorderly. They’re not just kicked out for the night, but “eighty-sixed” — permanently banned from the establishment.
Now imagine if a bar owner could flag that ejected patron digitally, documenting their transgression for other bar owners to see and placing them on a nightlife equivalent of a no fly list that stretches across city, state, and even international borders.
PatronScan allows bars to do just that. The PatronScan kiosk, placed at the entrance of a bar or nightlife establishment, can verify whether an ID is real or fake, and collect and track basic customer demographic data. For bars, accurate ID scanners are valuable tools that help weed out underage drinkers, protecting the establishments’ liquor licenses from fines and scrupulous state alcohol boards. But PatronScan’s main selling point is security.
The system allows a business to maintain a record of bad customer behavior and flag those individuals, alerting every other bar that uses PatronScan. What constitutes “bad behavior” is at a bar manager’s discretion, and ranges from “sexual assault” to “violence” to “public drunkenness” and “other.” When a bargoer visits another PatronScan bar and swipes their ID, their previously flagged transgressions will pop up on the kiosk screen. Unless patrons successfully appeal their status to PatronScan or the bar directly, their status can follow them for anywhere from a couple weeks to a few months, to much, much longer. According to a PatronScan “Public Safety Report” from May 2018, the average length of bans handed out to customers in Sacramento, California was 19 years. (The company’s “Public Safety Report” is embedded in full below.)
PatronScan claims to have a networked list of more than 40,000 banned customers.
The same report indicates that PatronScan collected and retained information on over 10,000 patrons in Sacramento in a single day. Within a five month period, that added up to information on over 500,000 bargoers. PatronScan claims to have a networked list of more than 40,000 banned customers, many of whom may not even know about their eighty-sixed status until they try to gain entry into another bar covered by the system.
To some onlookers, PatronScan’s product raises a number of concerns about privacy, surveillance, and discrimination. PatronScan’s reports reveal the company logged where customers live, the household demographics for that area, how far each customer travelled to a bar, and how many different bars they had visited. According to the company’s own policies, the company readily shares the information it collects on patrons, both banned and not, at the request of police. In addition to selling its kiosks to individual bars and nightlife establishments, PatronScan also advertises directly to cities, suggesting that they mandate the adoption of their service.
PatronScan represents an extreme example of the growing adoption of data collection at bars and restaurants. Such establishments have long had informal systems for tracking problematic patrons. Today, many bars also have internal surveillance systems, which track customer trends and catalog granular data on purchasing habits. Those tools are growing increasingly sophisticated, with obvious benefits to venue owners and law enforcement.
For bargoers, however, these systems create an uncomfortable new paradigm for partying, one in which data-sharing is a norm and technological tools can multiply the consequences of a single bad night. And once a bar adopts an ID scanning system, even innocent patrons may never know where their ID data will end up, or how it will be used.