Facial-Recognition Technology Is Perfect Fodder for a New Breed of Summer Camp Horror Movies

From Friday the 13th to the perhaps correctly underrated but no less enthralling Sleepaway Camp franchise, the American summer camp tradition has long captured our cultural imagination as a place where terrifying things are bound to happen. Now, the advent of facial-recognition technology has added a dystopian sci-fi horror element to real-life summer camps by allowing unsuspecting children’s parents to easily spy on them in order to demand from afar that they more demonstrably enjoy themselves.


New facial-recognition tools can capture up to 1,000 images of campers a day, sending parents instant notifications when their children are kayaking, hiking, making new friends. Hopefully, parents are not being sent images of minors feeling each other up in the woods, but I am willing to bet that has happened at least once, as getting felt up in the woods is every bit as much a part of summer camp as learning dozens of Bible verses by heart (look, I’ve only ever been to church camp, okay?).

Why would anyone need thousands of spy cam images of their kids in the arts and crafts cabin? According to The Washington Post, it is because helicopter parents are far more terrifying than Mrs. Voorhees could ever even imagine:

The companies selling the facial-recognition access advertise it as an easy solution to separation anxiety for always-on parents eager to capture every childhood memory, even when those memories don’t include them. One company, Bunk1, said more than 160,000 parents use its software every summer.

It’s all about building this one-way window into the camper’s experience: The parent gets to see in, but the camper’s not distracted from what’s going on,’” said Bunk1 president Rob Burns, a former camp counselor himself. “These are parents who are involved in everything their kid does, and that doesn’t go away when the kid is at camp.’

Camp counselors and child psychologists rightly say this is creepy as fuck:

“How can our kids ever learn to be autonomous when we’re always tracking and monitoring them?” said Katie Hurley, a child and adolescent psychotherapist. “We want kids to embrace new experiences, to be great people, expand their social circles and take healthy risks. And we tamp down on them when we’re always over their shoulders, saying, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be watching.’ ”

Counselors also report an astronomical increase in calls from parents worried their children do not look happy enough. More than 40,000 parents who need hobbies have signed up for one such service, called Waldo, while Bunk1 boasts a whole host of other products for “parental engagement” to keep kids from having fun and learn to accept constant surveillance, along with images of themselves they didn’t consent to being stored in a corporate data warehouse, as a normal part of modern life. On a selfish note, I am so ready for the horror movies these kids are going to grow up to write.




I am the parent of a child who is currently attending a camp that uses Bunk1. I’m not sure how other camps work, but at the camp my child attends, they have staffers who photograph the kids at their activities and special camp events, and then those photos are uploaded to a portal that only parents can access. There are 3-4 pictures each week of my kid, and all the campers are aware when their photos are being captured. There *is* facial recognition, which in practice means that instead of combing through all the photos looking for my kid, I can just look at the pictures where she appears.

She’s at camp for 4 weeks, and I miss her while she’s gone. It’s reassuring to see her having fun. I’m not managing her activities remotely, or calling the camp demanding to know why she isn’t having more fun. Maybe other parents do, but I suspect that parents who are the type to micromange their kids’ camp experiences after looking at photos of their kids are probably also likely to do the same thing without the photos.

The camp also has a very strict no-screens policy, and campers are prohibited from posting photos taken at camp on social media when they return home. They take it really seriously - they want the kids to feel free to not worry that photos of them dressed in silly clothes, or screaming their lungs out during Color Days, are going to follow them digitally for the rest of their lives. It feels like a pretty balanced way to handle it, and it’s difficult for me to get up-in-arms about this.