Recently, we’ve seen an increasing amount of discussion and controversy about businesses that force people to give up access to private social media information for things like job interviews, and courts that make litigants hand over login info to the opposition.

Now, according to a recent story from across the pond, certain British drinking establishments are asking prospective patrons to pony up their smartphones so bouncers can cross-check their IDs with their Facebook pages. Putting aside the real news here — the fact that apparently 6-year-olds can no longer drink alcohol in English pubs — let’s take a look at the interesting privacy implications this raises…

Here we go, from BBC Newsbeat:

Some bouncers have been demanding people hand over their smartphones so they can check Facebook accounts, Newsbeat has been told.

It’s claimed that it is to make sure the person is who they say they are and isn’t using fake identification.

It happened to Charlotte Neal, 20, who said there had been a few times where bouncers had asked to see her phone.

Charlotte said bouncers had checked that her Facebook name matched her driving licence.

“I kind of just logged onto it [Facebook] and showed him the screen and then he didn’t question it any further,” explained Charlotte.

“When it happened the first time I didn’t really think anything of it.

“Then I thought, ‘Hang on, is this really how you’re supposed to check how old I am?’ But I was out and I wanted to get in the club so I just agreed.”

Ahhh, the motivational powers of procuring alcohol…

Charlotte, who’s from Southampton, said she often gets asked for identification.

“I just think great, ‘Here we go again, they’re going to question me, they’re going to ask my date of birth, my star sign, and they’re going to ask to see a different ID or something.’

“I do understand why they want to verify it, but at the same time if you’ve got an ID in front of you, why isn’t that good enough?”

It wasn’t just Charlotte this has happened to, other Newsbeat listeners wrote on Facebook and said it had happened to them, one person said it happened all the time where they live in Northern Ireland.

Club staff defend the decision like so:

They say the consequences of letting someone in who’s underage are serious, with the potential for a large fine.

“I believe the fine for letting in an underage person is £5,000,” said a doorman from Worthing.

“Why is it so wrong for people to have to prove the ID is actually them? If you’re not doing anything wrong you shouldn’t have a problem.”

Chris, a bar owner from Folkestone, told Newsbeat that convincing fake ID was easy to get — and often very hard for door staff to spot.

“Checking phones with consent is at least a more certain way,” he said.

Privacy problems aside, this seems like a silly, roundabout way to deal with the problem of hard-to-spot fake IDs. Partly because there are a lot of easy ways around it, once underage people learn to expect this at bars. You could hide your phone and say you didn’t bring it (or you could actually not bring it), you could turn it off and claim the battery is dead, etc.

Perhaps more unsettling, though, is the unavoidably arbitrary enforcement of such a policy. If a bouncer sees an ID he doesn’t believe is real, could he refuse to admit a person into the bar because he or she doesn’t have a smartphone, or doesn’t have Facebook (unlikely, but possible), or simply refuses to allow the bouncer to take the phone? Plus, ethically dubious doormen could use this as an excuse to instantly Facebook-stalk girls they think are cute. (If we can’t even trust TSA agents to be responsible with our privacy, I’m not holding my breath regarding bouncers.)

Also, wouldn’t it just easier to check the ID against a credit card — or several credit cards, a medical insurance card, and a Costco membership card, if a bouncer is really skeptical?

It will be interesting to see if this strategy carries over to the United States — if it hasn’t already. Either way, I don’t expect the “trend” to last very long in Europe or the U.S. The backlash against organizations perceived as forcing people to give up electronic data as a condition of things like employment or going to bars is happening faster, and now, it seems to be politically safe for elected officials to get involved as well.

It only took a few weeks of stories circulating about employers requiring Facebook login information from prospective hires going viral for legislation to be proposed.

That’s why I always say it’s better to just drink at home, alone, in the dark, while this song plays softly in the background. Amirite?

Bouncers ‘checking Facebook on phones’ as identification [BBC]


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