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Google helps you find shared bikes around the globe, while the EU’s creepy new virtual immigration tool is just as bad as it sounds. Privacy activists help you avoid airlines that use facial recognition, and Tinder’s new feature protects LGBTQ+ travelers visiting countries with repressive regimes.
It’s time for a mildly-dystopian edition of Travel Tech News!
Track Down the Nearest Shared Bike Dock With Google Maps
Bike-sharing schemes are spreading like wildfire in cities around the globe, and they’re typically as useful for visitors as they are for local residents.
The schemes can be split broadly into two types: dockless, where the bikes can be left anywhere, and those that require bikes to be docked at a specific location.
For the latter, Google Maps has been testing a feature in New York over the last year that shows you where the nearest bike docks are, how many bikes are available there, and how many free slots there are.
As of last month, that feature has been rolled out to a couple of dozen other places around the world, and you’ll now find it in cities from London to Los Angeles, Taipei to Toronto, and many others.
It’s very easy to use: just search for the name of the bike-sharing network you’d like to use (eg. “Santander cycle hire” in London,) and you’ll see the closest docking stations on the map. Tap on any of them to see how many bikes are currently there, and how many free spaces are left.
Europe’s New Lie Detector for Travelers Is Awful In Every Way
Think dealing with intrusive questions from immigration officials is bad in person? Things could be worse, and if an EU pilot program continues, they absolutely will be.
Nearly five million euros has been spent on the oddly-named iBorderCtrl pilot, which finishes this month. Under the scheme, potential visitors are required to undergo questioning from a virtual “policeman” in advance to determine whether they’ll be allowed to cross the border.
Using your own computer and webcam, the system requires you to upload a passport photo, and then answer several questions. Based on pseudoscientific facial “microgestures,” iBorderCtrl then decides whether it thinks you’re lying.
You’ve given a QR code which gets scanned at the border, and tells the immigration official how much of a risk you apparently pose. Given there’s no hard evidence that microgestures are an accurate way to determine whether someone is lying, wrong results have proven unsurprisingly common.
Even a small-scale, unbalanced study undertaken by the researchers behind the technology misjudged answers 25% of the time. In the real world, those numbers are almost certainly worse. It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence either way.
The pilot program is voluntary, and limited to visitors planning to enter the EU via Latvia, Greece, or Hungary. If the scheme gets the go-ahead, of course, it’ll almost certainly be both mandatory and more widespread. Here’s hoping it doesn’t.
New Website Helps You Avoid US Airlines That Use Facial Recognition
Speaking of creepy use of technology at border crossings, facial recognition technology by airlines is becoming increasingly common in US airports. While the airlines say they don’t store the images themselves, those images are shared with US Customs and Border Protection, which definitely does.
Submitting to facial scans isn’t (yet) mandatory, but they happen automatically, and opt-out procedures are typically unadvertised and unclear at best. The privacy implications for travelers are very real, especially when those stored images have been shown to be poorly managed and controlled.
A consortium of activist groups has taken matters into its own hands, releasing a new website that hopes to hit airlines using facial recognition where it hurts: their balance sheet. The simple tool lists airlines that are trialing or using the technology, and provides links to alternative carriers that don’t.
If you’re flying within or out of the United States and don’t want your face scanned along the way, be sure to check it out.
Tinder Rolls Out Safety Feature for LGBTQ+ Travelers
In a better use of technology for travelers, Tinder recently introduced a new safety feature for its LGBTQ+ users who travel to countries that criminalize same-sex relationships or acts.
The new “Traveler Alert” feature means users who identify as lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, or queer won’t automatically appear in the app once they arrive in one of the nearly 70 countries with hostile legislation.
Instead, they’ll be shown a warning and tips on keeping safe, and given the choice of whether they want to appear publicly in the app or not. Even if they opt-in, their sexual orientation and gender identity will be hidden to prevent targeting by law enforcement and others.
It’s appalling that measures like this are still necessary in so much of the world in 2019, but until things change, it’s good to see companies like Tinder trying to protect its users.