Published: Fri 16 August 2019
Update 2019-08-17: the Abstractions conference organizers have
changed the wristband
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
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
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:
Returning a wristband that has been damaged or cut off
Requiring a replacement for a lost wristband
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. Concerns
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
Secondly, it is not clear to me what will happen to data you collect. Scanning
a wristband ties a person to a place and a time, and therefore is a form of
location tracking. How many readers will the organizers place, and where will
they be? How often do conference attendees need to scan their badges? How long
will this tracking data be retained? For what purposes will it be used? Does
the venue have any scanners? What requirements do you impose on your
to whom you are advertising these wristbands? I call upon the conference
organizers to describe this data collection and how the data will be handled in
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
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
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.