Citizens Bank Park now has a gate that lets fans enter Phillies games without showing a ticket. (Mark Henninger/Imagic Digital)

The Phillies this week launched a pilot of new facial-recognition technology for entry at Citizens Bank Park.

Set up at the first base gate, it’s aimed at providing fans with a faster entry process, so you don’t have to fumble for a ticket or your phone to get into the game. After a snag on the first day, the rollout has generally been smooth so far.

Critics of the tech have generally pointed to ethical concerns, like data-storing, inaccuracies, and overreach.

But experts don’t seem to think there’s much to be concerned about yet, given the novelty of the program and how much of it depends on fans’ choices.

Before signing up, fans should ask themselves “Do I trust the implementer of this technology?” suggested Dean Miller, president and CEO of Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies, an entrepreneurship firm.

“They’re putting in place some things that hopefully can give the fan base confidence that they’re doing the right thing,” Miller told Billy Penn. 

For “Go-Ahead Entry,” as the service is called, ticket holders 18 or older can opt in by taking a selfie and uploading it on the MLB Ballpark app. The image is subsequently deleted, the MLB says, after the system assigns the image a numerical token.

At Citizens Bank Park, these fans can then walk through the first base gate at a normal speed, where their face will be scanned and matched to its numerical token in the system. 

Fans may be skeptical that facial recognition could store their images, so it’s smart that the Phillies gate reportedly doesn’t do that, Miller said. The MLB did not respond to Billy Penn’s questions on security and ethics of the technology at Citizens Bank Park.

Currently, only one person in a party needs to register, and their facial scan should allow all other members in their group to enter. Facial recognition is typically accurate on an individual basis, Miller said, but as with any piece of technology, there could always be issues. 

During its debut in advance of the Aug. 22 Phillies-Giants game, the facial recognition scanner accidentally started registering the faces of people further back in the queue, causing a bottleneck. The problem was eventually addressed after attendants created a buffer zone for the scanner.

Facial recognition is not an entirely new thing at stadiums. In New York, Citi Field has face-ID ticket kiosks at stadium gates, and Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium offers an “Express Access” program that uses it.

Late last year, Madison Square Garden Entertainment was scrutinized for how it used facial recognition software to identify and ban individuals involved in litigation against Garden owner James Dolan from entering Dolan family properties.

Earlier this year, the Philadelphia International Airport was installing facial recognition at 25 boarding gates in Terminals A-East and A-West to help verify flyers’ identities. 

One of the major ethical concerns with facial recognition is its tendency to hold intrinsic biases, especially individuals who are not white. The technology has an accuracy rate of 90%, but that level of precision doesn’t apply to individuals who are female, Black, or between the ages of 18 and 30, which have the highest error rates, according to a 2020 study out of Harvard.

In terms of issues with “Go-Ahead Entry” at Citizens Bank Park, it may be too early to tell what the ethical concerns might be, Dorothy Bollinger, Temple University law professor and president of the Radnor-based Bollinger Law Firm, told Billy Penn.

More time is needed to see its real world impacts, said Bollinger, who specializes in technology law. 

The MLB and the Phillies started developing the technology two-and-a-half years ago, according to Sports Business Journal, which reported that the league declined to release the specific outside vendor it was using for the authentication tech. 

Bollinger encouraged fans to read the program’s terms and conditions before signing up, because “knowing how [your] personal biometric information/data are collected, used, managed, disclosed, and protected” is important.