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Tuesday, November 20 , 2018, 10:16 pm | Fair 50º

 
 
 
 

Santa Barbara 24 Hour Fitness Replacing Membership Cards with Fingerprint Scans

One group says the move forces people to trade privacy for convenience, but company officials call it a green initiative that will help prevent fraud

One of the more popular South Coast health clubs is asking its thousands of members for fingerprint information as part of a corporate move that’s being called invasive by a national privacy rights organization.

Last week, 24 Hour Fitness at 820 State St. in Santa Barbara, which boasts several thousand members, had its front desk personnel telling members as they walked in to put their index finger in a device so that they would no longer need to bring in plastic membership cards and photo ID to enter the club. Employees said most members didn’t complain about the practice.

“All of our clubs will have this by the end of the year,” said Derek Johnson, manager at the Santa Barbara 24 Hour Fitness. “But you can still use your own ID if you want.”

But Beth Givens of the San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse said it’s inappropriate for a company to collect fingerprint data from dues-paying members.

“People trade privacy for convenience, and that’s unfortunate,” she said.

24 Hour Fitness, a San Ramon-based company, is calling the move a green initiative that will make member check-in easier and prevent fraud. Lost or stolen cards have proven to be a large problem for gyms.

“We’re making changes to all of our computer systems, so you’ll no longer be able to check in with your old membership card,” company officials told members in an e-mail this week. “If you don’t want to enroll, you’ll need to bring your driver’s license or another government or school issued ID each time you check in.”

24 Hour Fitness worked with MorphoTrak, a biometric company, to develop the finger scanner, which charts the distance between a few distinct points that are unique to each person and comes up with an identifying number based on those distances.

“We do not store a fingerprint, nor can the data we store be re-created into a fingerprint image,” company officials said.

While the data can’t be used by law enforcement, it’s still collected in a database, Givens said, adding that the practice is invasive and a matter of privacy.

She said her group has received complaints for the past four years about fingerprint systems being tested in 24 Hour Fitness gyms.

Corporate officials would not say how much the privately held company was spending on installing the new system, or how much it plans to save by using it. Fingerprint readers are being used in 200 of its fitness centers.

Noozhawk business writer Ray Estrada can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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