Fight for the Future, a nonprofit music coalition, this month claimed victory in prompting the city to drop Amazon’s palm-scanning technology at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which was opposed in a petition signed by hundreds of musicians including Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello and Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna.
However, a spokesman for Denver Arts & Venues, which owns and rents out Red Rocks, said Fight for the Future’s March 10 press release on the subject was not related to any new decisions about the program. Furthermore, the release was largely reprinted by music publications and news outlets without scrutiny, and many of them failed to contact the city for comment on Fight for the Future’s claim, he said.
“(Fight for the Future) didn’t ask a reason or ask if there was a specific decision made based on their campaign,” said Brian Kitts, communications manager for Denver Arts & Venues. “There wasn’t. Had they asked that and had I known they were going to run a ‘we won’ campaign, I’d have warned them against doing that.”
It’s not so much a controversy as technical tweaks, Kitts added, noting that the palm-scanning technology was a program of AXS, the ticket seller for city events, and something also rolled out at Mission Ballroom and Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle.
“For some reason, Red Rocks was where this group decided to make their stand,” he said.
Announced in September, the Amazon-owned Palm One Recognition service was supposed to be a trial for other venues booked or operated by Denver-based AEG Presents Rocky Mountains — the region’s largest concert promoter, and the one booking the overwhelming majority of Red Rocks shows — and its spin-off ticketing company AXS.
It was the first time the technology was used outside some of Amazon’s stores, where shoppers can pay for groceries and snacks by swiping their palms, The Associated Press reported. Starbucks, Southwest Airlines and other companies are testing similar technology, Kitts said.
Like the others, the Red Rocks program is opt-in and requires users to sign up in advance to use their palm as their ticket — which is why Kitts was surprised the program was being portrayed by some as mandatory. However, musicians and privacy experts have expressed general concerns over biometric technology, such as face or palm scans, due to its vulnerability to hacking and theft, according to the AP.
“The decision follows a months-long mobilization by artists, activists and human rights organizations aimed at pressuring Red Rocks, AEG and AXS … to ban all biometric surveillance at venues and events,” Fight for the Future leaders wrote in their statement.
AEG officials did not comment on whether palm-scanning would return at any AEG venues in Colorado this year. Evan Greer, director of Fight for the Future, said AEG and AXS had not responded to her recent requests to confirm that the technology was being used at nationwide venues.
“We spoke with someone there who said the decision had come from corporate,” Greer wrote in an email to The Denver Post.
While the petition to remove the technology started in 2021, this month’s victory statement from Fight for the Future was only prompted by the city’s reply to Greer in February. The timing is also attention-getting since Red Rocks’ summer season begins next week.
After Kitts told Greer the city had no plans to use palm-scanning in 2022, Fight for the Future claimed their win in a press release dubbed “Activists and artists shut down Amazon palm scanning at Red Rocks Amphitheater” (sic).
“This has always been a voluntary program,” said Kitts, who thought the issue had been settled last year. “I understand their (privacy) concerns and believe that Amazon has tried to address them. But this has as much to do with not having to run another cable up the side of the mountain as anything.”
Greer, however, said Amazon has a “disturbing history of collaboration with law enforcement” and could share the biometric data from palm scanning devices with government agencies that want to track and target political activists, people of color, and other marginalized groups.
“I don’t want anyone coming to one of my concerts to have to worry that they’ll be subjected to invasive surveillance, or coerced into handing over their sensitive biometric information to a corporation,” Greer, also a musician, wrote in the press statement claiming victory.
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