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Tracking spending at the National High School Finals Rodeo will move forward despite concerns

A young man rides a bucking bull in a rodeo arena.
Joe Duty
Flickr via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Campbell County Lodging Tax Joint Powers Board and the Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau are moving ahead with plans that will implement geofencing technology for this year’s National High School Finals Rodeo in July in Gillette. It comes after some residents spoke out against these plans at two public meetings, voicing concerns about violations of privacy, constitutionality, and the necessity of them.

On April 20, approximately 15 people attended a meeting to discuss implementing geofencing as a mechanism to get more in-depth information on how visitors, attendees, and even local residents are spending money during the rodeo. The information will be used for marketing and advertising purposes to attract visitors to Gillette and Campbell County. In addition to members of the lodging tax board and tourism officials, Jay Kinghorn, chief innovation officer and co-founder of Zartico, the geofencing provider, gave a presentation on how the geofencing technology works via Zoom.

“When I started this company, we aimed to do something that was completely the opposite of the prevailing trends and build our rich analytics and our analytics stack around having anonymized aggregated data to be looking at the flows of groups of people, never individuals,” he said.

Kinghorn is a former Utah tourism official who helped create Zartico in 2019. The Utah-based company acts as a data aggregator. They don’t collect the data themselves but get it from other companies that acquire it from others. Geofencing tracks devices within a specific outlined geographic area. He said everything is anonymized before they see the information.

“We only see around five percent of all devices at a given location at a given time,” he said. “That means for every 20 people, we might have some information on one, we will have no information on the other 19 people that were there at that period of time.”

Kinghorn explained this may not seem like much, but it provides a better sample size of information than what could be obtained otherwise, such as through a survey. But some attendees worried about their personal information being shared.

“The important point here is that that data is considered to be personally identifiable information much the same way that a credit card, email, home address, or bank record could be,” Kinghorn explained. “So as such, that data is regulated nationally, as well as internationally.”

These regulations are placed to make sure that private data is not shared. Geofencing technology is used regularly by businesses and political campaigns to gather information on customers and voters. And it’s not new to Wyoming. It’s since been used at the Sheridan WYO Rodeo and in Cheyenne.

Zartico has also contracted with the Wyoming Office of Tourism as well.

“Our standard place-based strategy looks at restaurants, accommodations, retail spaces, event venues, state parks, national parks and public lands,” said Kinghorn.

But some meeting attendees were unconvinced that the plans were being used in good faith. State Sen. Troy McKeown (R-Gillette) owns a small business. He said businesses must turn in receipts for taxable and non-taxable sales and that these records would be a better way to find out how money is being spent.

“We have all of the data at the state to do this analysis and there is no creeping into people's lives and gathering your personal data as they drive through geofences,” he said.

Local resident Jacob Dalby questioned the intentions of the board and visitor’s bureau, asking why they wanted to know where people were coming from.

“I do not care and you guys shouldn't care what state they come from,” he said. “Why do you want to be like China? I mean, I gotta ask you that.”

Dalby and several other attendees questioned the constitutionality of the geofencing plans, expressing concern about consent for the data to be shared with these companies.

“I can tell you right now, we're not upholding the Constitution, and this is what I care about,” he said. “Right now, Campbell County is throwing this Constitution on the ground and burn[ing] it like the Antifa did the American flags. That's you that's on each and every one of you.”

As the meeting continued to get heated and arguments ensued, the tax board eventually closed the public discussion saying it was becoming unproductive.

Six days later, the board met again for a special meeting to vote on whether to implement geofencing technology. There were fewer attendees and the tone was more civil. Board members and tourist officials acknowledged people had concerns but felt that there were no viable alternatives to get the necessary spending information. It passed on a 5-1 vote.

“They used to give us like an annual report and then now we can look at it quarterly, but you can't look at specific dates, just date ranges,” said Jessica Seders, Executive Director of the Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Also we couldn't have measured [the] high

school finals rodeo, you could have just looked at that quarter that it was in, but not just that week or two weeks.”

Seders added that the National High School Rodeo Association, which sponsors the NHSFR, is aware of these plans and that they’ve hosted the rodeo in communities that have also used geofencing technology.

The NHSFR celebrates its 75th anniversary event July 16-22 at the Cam-plex. Local officials say it could be the biggest event in the rodeo’s history.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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