Can Event Tech & Social Coexist With Privacy Rights?

Technology is changing so rapidly that society (this includes Event Planners and Social Pros) is having a difficult time keeping up. 

Case in point, an Amazon Echo device is now the focus in a murder trial.

CNN’s Eliott C. McLaughlin covered it in his article:

The defendant, James Bates, was accused of strangling a co-worker in his home over a year ago. The catch? Police and the prosecution wanted to get a hold of his Amazon Echo device.

While Echo devices don’t “do anything” unless voice-activated, they sit in a “listening” state and spring to life when a user says the magic word (“Alexa”).

The prosecution hoped they could get their hands on audio recorded during the time of the incident to use as evidence in the trial.

Amazon refused to release customer information after the initial police request, maintaining the agency needed to produce a “valid and binding” request. Even after returning with a search warrant, the Internet giant refused to cooperate.

While privacy advocates may side with Amazon, the state wanted the evidence.

For the rest of us, the James Bates murder case may come as a rude awakening. What potential intrusion does technology make possible? Are we ready, as a society, for that level of transparency?

This raises other important questions:

  • Where does Amazon’s responsibility to guard user privacy end?
  • Where does the responsibility of the individual begin?

I reached out to four professionals in social and event-related industries, to get their take on the issue of privacy.

Let’s dive in.

International speaker, consultant and writer helping clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity 

Corbin Ball | Privacy Tolerance

Corbin Ball, CSP, CMP, DES, MS is an international speaker, consultant. and writer. He focuses on helping clients across the globe use technology to save time and improve productivity.

He is a widely respected influencer in the events industry and serves on hotel, corporate, convention bureau and association boards. His TechTalk newsletters are read by fans both inside and outside the industry.

I asked Corbin for his take on privacy and the latest trends emerging in hospitality.

“Steve Wynn recently installed 4000 Amazon Echo devices in the rooms of his Las Vegas hotels,” Corbin told me.

Echo is the kind of luxury item that guests of Wynn properties have come to expect. Many people who already have virtual assistants in their homes have come to rely on the convenience these devices provide.

“I have 2 virtual butlers, but I have nothing to hide,” Corbin quipped. “Some people have a lower tolerance when it comes to Internet connectivity and the potential exposure.

“I happen to love the convenience of telling Echo to turn the lights off and put on soft music. I love the convenience of the Internet of Things (IoT). The individual must ultimately decide the privacy level he or she needs.

“Realistically, if an individual believes technology like Echo is a problem, they probably should not be on a computer, use a smart television, smartphone, or at least turn them off when they’re not using them.

“As to events professionals, and others responsible for credit cards and that kind of sensitive data, reasonable safeguards must be provided.” Social pros should do likewise.

Corbin’s One-Liner: Businesses have an obligation to provide reasonable diligence, but the individual is ultimately responsible for knowing his or her tolerance levels for lack of privacy.

Small business attorney helping entrepreneurs, artists, coaches, and consultants find simplicity

Elizabeth Potts Weinstein | Facial Recognition

Elizabeth Potts Weinstein is a lawyer, a writer, a devoted mom, and an explorer. She’s  Founder and Lead Attorney at EPW Small Business Law PC. She helps entrepreneurs, artists, coaches, consultants, and online publishers, specializing in Startups and acting as General Counsel.

Facial recognition software is becoming standard at events these days. One reason why this could have unintended results for the use as mentioned in an article by Tom Simonite, over at

the MIT Technology Review:

Facebook Creates Software That Matches Faces Almost as Well as You Do. A human will get unfamiliar photos of the same face right 97.53 percent of the time. New software developed by researchers at Facebook can score 97.25 percent on the same challenge, regardless of variations in lighting or whether the person in the picture is directly facing the camera.

What could go wrong? Well, for starters, Facebook is already embroiled in a court case surrounding its facial recognition software.

I asked Elizabeth for her take on how to move forward with facial recognition tools without violating privacy laws.

“Privacy laws,” Elizabeth began, “are in high fluctuation right now, and you don’t want you or your clients sued because the rules changed this morning.

“Best practice is disclosure and even better, express consent. If you’re using the latest high-tech gadget at your event that may gather or use personally identifiable information from your attendees, tell them and, if possible, get your guests to expressly consent to you using their information.

“For example, privacy laws regarding facial recognition tech are up in the air right now, with the Facebook case (In re Facebook Biometric Information ‘Privacy Litigation’) pending.

“A ruling could come down either way at any time, and would change how this tech is regulated.”

Elizabeth’s One-Liner: It’s better to be safe than sorry. Disclose any information gathering to attendees ahead of time, and, ideally, try to get their express consent.

Accomplished developer and speaker for events in the US and EU

Adam Warski | iBeacons

Adam Warski is the CTO and co-founder of SoftwareMill (“Extraordinary Software as a Standard”). He and his team take care of projects end-to-end, developing custom software using Scala, Akka, Java, and other languages and interesting technologies.

Whenever you’re discussing technology, it’s good to have someone who actually knows it from the opposite direction, namely the internal aspects. Adam is both an engineer and a speaker. He is well acquainted with the behind-the-scenes at an event.

As a software developer, he hears from end users on a regular basis and strongly focuses on improvement from the technical end.

I asked him his thoughts on privacy and how to use iBeacons within the context of an event. The learning applies to social pros, as well.

“iBeacons,” Adam said, “are a great supplement to other location services, such as the service we use every day for navigation, GPS. Especially in large, enclosed venues, indoor navigation is a long-standing problem, and beacons offer a solution. There’s a good reason why. For example, on the iOS, for an app to use iBeacon ranging, you need to agree to share your location.

iBeacon is the Apple version of Bluetooth-based devices frequently found at tradeshows and used to broadcast or receive tiny and static pieces of data within short distances. Planners use them to collect data for process improvement.  

“However, while we might be used to sharing our location while outside, indoor location sharing pushes the privacy limits a bit further, once more testing our understanding of what’s ‘creepy’ and what’s ‘cool’.

“Maybe more fine-grained location sharing consent would be needed?

“For example, you might be completely fine with an app knowing that you are in a shopping mall, but you might not want to share the specific shops that you’ve visited, which might reveal quite a lot about your habits, interests and material situation.”

Social pros must approach location monitoring with caution and respect for the privacy of their customers.

Adam’s One Liner: Indoor events create demand for more granular location sharing. More complicated permission directives should be considered to protect individual habits and interests where appropriate.

Mobile strategist focused on improving the customer experience

Aubriana Alvarez | Mobile Privacy

Aubriana is Chief Mobile Strategist at Digital Element, an Atlanta-based geolocation solutions company. She oversees business development,  partnerships, and new products.

Aubriana also co-hosts the weekly podcast “This Week in Location Based Marketing” and speaks at internationally recognized events, including the CTIA SuperMobility Conference, OpenMobile Media Summit, MobileDevHacker, SXSW, and RetailLoco.

No discussion about events technology, social, and privacy would be complete without a mobile strategist.

Aubriana is also a regular speaker at a variety of events in her industry. I asked her about privacy as it pertains to mobile devices, the information planners, and social pros harvest from them to design better events marketing campaigns.

Aubriana stated, “When it comes to mobile privacy, there are two main things to keep in mind: First, in order for anyone to track your location and access your information, an app needs to be given permission to do so by the end user.

“Next, it is ultimately the device owner’s responsibility to be aware of, and okay, with the permissions they have set. This can include Location Services and Bluetooth settings, as well as the phones advertising settings.

“With that said, the party that is collecting the data should be as transparent as possible, sharing what data they are collecting and how it will be used―and ensuring they don’t deviate from their stated intentions.

“Nearly all mobile marketers/advertisers that I work with, or in this case, event planners and sponsors, are interested in how an audience operates on a larger scale: meaning they are looking at groups of people of no less than 100 to be sure they provide the most interesting and applicable content and advertising possible.

“At the end of the day, consumers, including myself, want more contextual information served to them, based on their interests, location, and current situation.

“No one is interested in an ad for something they purchased six months ago. People will be more open to sharing additional information about themselves when they receive relevant content in return.”

Aubriana’s One Liner: Information sharing helps planners, sponsors, social pros, and marketers provide the most relevant content for audiences. The more closely marketing efforts align with audience interests, the better they will be received.

Final Thoughts: The Responsibility of Digital Privacy

Anonymity is something many of us took for granted 10 years ago. You need only read a newspaper (or this article) to realize that those days are coming to an end.

Cities like L.A. and New York are implementing Closed-Circuit TV (CCTV) surveillance systems in public spaces. These cameras are so sharp that law enforcement can read the text on a pamphlet from up to a mile away. The potential problems are obvious.

Despite those concerns, as a society, we don’t seem to want to give up the benefits those technologies can provide us day-to-day.

Society has come to rely on technology both at work and home. Tools like social media help us stay in touch with family and loved ones.

But we need to think long and hard about where the balance lies.

Ultimately, as our experts mentioned above, it is something each person must decide for him or herself. But, realistically, the situation is too complex to answer in broad sweeping statements.

Rather, it is something we must approach like snapshots in time. Once the picture changes we can redefine the specifics that answer these new challenges and trust that as technologies evolve, solutions will too.


1. “We’ve seen data that suggests 40 million Americans attend a convention, trade show or conference each year.  That excludes “business meetings” and “incentive events” which tend to be internal one company events that don’t meet the standard of being a conference, tradeshow or convention.” Quora, 2011. Bruce Carlisle, Entrepreneur, CEO, 3X Founder, CEO & Founder

This post is sponsored by to help raise awareness of the importance of individual privacy issues as they relate to new technology and events.