New facial recognition services are easing parent’s anxieties over how their children spend their time away at summer camp. How does it work? Summer camps partner with facial recognition companies like Waldo Photos and Bunk1, hiring full-time photographers to capture the day’s activities. After photographers upload what they took—about 1,000 pictures a day—the companies use their technology to auto-tag kids in photos. Parents are then notified on their smartphones whenever their children appear in a picture.
However, experts and camp staff are spotting issues with the new tech that many parents seem willing to ignore.
Why Parents Love It
Parent David Hiller happily told The Washington Post how his phone rings around 10 times a day with notifications from the facial recognition service at his daughters’ summer camp. Though he misses his daughters, he is grateful for the technology that “at least” makes him “feel like [he knows] what they’re doing.”
Hiller isn’t alone in his appreciation for summer camp facial recognition services. According to Bunk1, more than 160,000 parents use the software every summer.
But camp counselors, child therapists, and camp photographers suggest that these new services could come at a cost.
Why Experts and Camp Staff Don’t
Summer camp is known for being a place where kids can explore themselves, become more independent, and build meaningful relationships. Counselors worry that over-monitoring the camp’s attendees—by filling the grounds with photographers—may stunt the personal growth each child would undergo if they weren’t under constant surveillance.
Child and adolescent psychotherapist Katie Hurley told The Washington Post, “We want kids to embrace new experiences: to be great people, expand their social circles and take healthy risks. And we tamp down on them when we’re always over their shoulders, saying, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be watching.’”
Though the photos help cure the harrowing uncertainty of allowing your child to temporarily live independently, they also fuel a perpetual cycle of worry that could be equally unhealthy. More summer camp photos prompt more questions from parents.
Courtesy of facial recognition technology, summer camps are now much more likely to be contacted by concerned parents. It’s now routine for counselors to answer parents calling and asking why their child isn’t smiling in a particular photo or why their child isn’t photographed as much as they typically are.
Rosie Johnson, a summer camp photographer working in Michigan, always feels compelled to remind kids that their parents are worriedly watching, especially when they choose to frown for a photo—even as a joke. She knows parents will judge the camp based on the looks of their kids’ faces.
Psychotherapist Hurley told The Washington Post that these facial recognition services “feed [a] cycle of anxiety in families, because the parents never feel calm and safe and that things are OK, and that bleeds down to the kids.”
Hurley also expressed further qualms, noting how the facial recognition technology conditions parents “to really worry if their kids are having fun … which is absurd, because they send them to these amazing camps where they’re practically guaranteed to have fun.”
Camp photographers noticed that constant documentation pressures kids to always be smiling. Hurley finds this forced positivity to be heavily problematic. “This idea where you have to be happy all the time: That’s not real, and yet that’s what we’re chasing and what we’re looking for when we want all these pictures all the time.”
Regardless of how camp staff members feel about the facial recognition services, camps partnering with those companies intend to continue using them. Most camp directors are pleased they can assure parents their child is enjoying their time away at camp. Camps can also make money by offering Bunk1 packages with additional services, such as sending digital notes and newsletters.
Though many parents are grateful for Bunk1’s and Waldo Photos’ services, many also worry about what these companies will do with their child’s photos if they plan to use them.
Rob Burns, founder of Bunk1, revealed to The Washington Post that a parent recently called asking the company to delete his account in fear of leaving behind too big of a digital footprint. Though Burns assured user data is secure, he refused to explain how the company kept individuals’ personal information safe.
Also, according to Bunk1’s terms of service, the company reserves the “royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive right and license to use, reproduce … and distribute” any uploaded photos to the software.
Though parents like Hiller are thrilled to be able to get arguably too many glimpses into their child’s summer camp experience, experts, camp staff, and privacy-concerned parents are wary of the implications that facial recognition technology poses on personal growth, family dynamics, and online security.
Facial Recognition Summer Camp – Sources
The Washington Post: Summer camps use facial recognition so parents can watch from home
The Wall Street Journal: Facial Recognition Tech Comes to Schools and Summer Camps