Update 2019-08-17: the Abstractions conference organizers have changed the wristband policy.
Currently, the Abstractions II conference, which starts next week, requires all attendees to wear a wristband with an RFID tag in it for the duration of the conference, including in bed and in the bathroom. The conference organizers, Code & Supply, have not addressed the concerns I raised on their Slack, so I would like to publicly ask them to reverse the continuous wear policy, and document how the RFID tracking data will be handled. Please share this and contact the organizers.
I registered for Abstractions II several months ago, and two weeks ago I received the "Register Your Abstractions Wristband" email. The email linked to terms on the wristband registration website. The page is locked so that you can only see it after signing in and purchasing a ticket, so I'll reproduce it here (reformatted slightly):
Activating Your Wristband
- Wristband activation ensures a smooth process when entering the conference each day and allows you to add emergency contact info to your wristband. All you need to do is enter your wristband ID number to activate!
- Activate your wristband prior to putting it on your wrist. You will be unable to read your activation number located on the back side of the RFID tag if you have already tightened the wristband.
- Only activate the wristband you will be wearing. Wristbands can only be activated once.
Wearing Your Wristband
- For security and customer service purposes Wristbands are required to be worn at all times during conference activities. You will be subject to ejection with no refund if you take off or tamper with your wristband for any reason. If you have an issue with your wristband, please immediately report to security or our help desk.
- Wear on your right wrist. The wristbands cannot be loosened once fitted to your wrist. Leave one finger's worth of space between your wrist and the fabric for comfort and security.
- All wristbands will be checked for proper application by staff. If wristbands are removed or tampered with whatsoever, they are void and will be confiscated. Lost or tampered bands will be subject to a replacement fee. Staff will check for loose/cut bands.
- To tighten the wristband, pull the tails or slide clasp towards your wrist. If wristbands are too loose and look like they can be slipped on and off, you will be asked to tighten the wristband by conference staff. If asked multiple times, they will be confiscated.
- Keep your wristband on through the entirety of the conference! It is waterproof and can be worn in the shower. DO NOT remove your wristband between days.
- Do not subject your sensitive RFID wristband to fire, cutting, excessive twisting, pulling, stretching or alteration. A person in possession of a wristband that has been tampered with or altered in any way is subject to ejection from the conference without refund.
- If your wristband is removed by event security/staff for any reason, it will be logged and WILL NOT be replaced. In the event of misconduct, your wristband must be forfeited to conference staff.
Wristband Replacement Fees
Replacement wristbands will be subject to the following fees:
General Admission Professional Admission Booth Only Returning a wristband that has been damaged or cut off $10 $10 $10 Requiring a replacement for a lost wristband $50 $80 $80
Useful links from other events.
These events have done a great job explaining their wristbands and activation process. If we didn't do a good enough job explaining, check these out.
There's a lot here, but I'll summarize as: you must wear an RFID wristband at all times, or else be ejected from the conference.
The wristband page does not really address the motivation for these policies, which I learned from speaking with the conference organizers on their Slack instance. The primary reason for all of this is to prevent groups from purchasing a single "professional" ticket and several "general admission" tickets, and then swapping passes to gain access to the premium areas of the conference, which contain additional food and drinks. If attendees did this, the cost of the catering - and therefore the cost of the conference - would go up.
I have a number of concerns about this.
Firstly, these requirements were not disclosed before I purchased my ticket and arranged my travel and lodging, and are still not available to anyone who has not purchased a ticket. I call upon the conference organizers to make these requirements public, link to them in the ticket purchase process, and acknowledge and apologize for the poor communication around these unusual requirements.
Thirdly, the prohibition on removing the wristband in between conference days is an intrusion on the bodily autonomy of attendees that is unacceptable in a professional environment. What any of us choose to wear or not wear outside of a conference - and the reasons behind those choices - are none of the conference's business. By imposing this requirement, people who have sensitive skin, sleep issues, or any other concerns (medical or personal) are now placed in the position of either having to deal with the consequences of wearing a wristband for the duration of the conference, paying additional money to replace the wristband each day, or speaking up about these (private) concerns publicly. A conference that is so focused on inclusivity should not place an additional burden on people with such issues. I call upon the conference organizers to publicly reverse this policy: allow people to take off the wristband, wear it on a lanyard, and develop some inclusive alternative to gatekeep premium areas, such as verifying IDs when scanning loose wristbands.
Fourthly, wearing conference swag outside of a conference makes attendees less safe, as it is "a marker that says 'TOURIST' in an unfamiliar city". Again, while this affects everyone, I suspect that it doesn't affect everyone equally; those who already feel the need to be more conscious of safety are likely to feel even less safe, and those who tend not to worry about their safety are probably not even going to realize that they are at increased risk. And, again, I call on the conference organizers to reverse the continuous wear policy.
Fifthly, the position of the organizers that I've heard most recently (as stated in Slack on August 5th) is to just wear it loose if you're concerned and that it'll probably be okay. As with some of the previous concerns, this kind of policy of selective enforcement most impacts the people who should least have to bear it; in this case, people who have historically been excluded from tech. A security guard is more likely to hassle someone who doesn't "look like they belong", and less likely to hassle someone who does. Again, I call upon the conference organizers, who I believe want to host a diverse and inclusive conference, to plainly state that conference passes do not have to be worn on the wrist, and that they have instructed security not to intervene based on where the conference pass is on a person's body - only that they have one.
Finally, if I understand correctly, these wristbands replace conference badges, rather than augment them. That means that attendees won't be able to see each others' names, what pronouns they prefer, who is a speaker, who is hiring, who is looking for a job, or any of the other tags people can add to badges. I'll be wearing a nametag, and I hope others will, as well. I hope the conference organizers will provide stickers and markers.
On a personal note, all of this has taken time and energy that I'd rather not have spent. I attended the first Abstractions in 2016, and it was one of the best conferences I've ever been to: they were able to get a great set of speakers, they were inclusive in a variety of ways, and I'd been looking forward to the next Abstractions ever since. Now, my excitement for the conference has been turned into a sort of low-level dread; I expect I will have to navigate security guards and privacy issues and whatever fallout there might be from talking about this publicly, and I'm not looking forward to any of that.
This kind of policy is well outside the norm for a professional conference. If I had known about it before tickets went on sale, I would not have purchased a ticket, and I have no intention of ever purchasing tickets to events that have such policies in the future.
It is my hope that, despite this issue, Abstractions II will be a successful conference! There will be a lot of great people here, and I hope that everyone will be able to see old colleagues and meet new peers and learn new things.
I also hope that reactions like mine will help prevent future conference organizers, including Code & Supply, from using this kind of badging approach.