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Amid criticism, plans are continuing to track spending at this year’s National High School Finals Rodeo


The Campbell County Joint Powers Lodging Tax Board voted to move forward with a contract with a Utah-based geofencing software company that will track spending habits during this year’s National High School Finals Rodeo (NHSFR) in July.

The 5-1 vote on April 26 confirmed the contract between the board, which includes members from the county, Wright, and City of Gillette, and Zartico, the company that provides geofencing technology. But these plans have drawn the ire of some in the community, raising concerns about privacy and calling into question the intentions of local tourism officials.

“We do appreciate the public vote [and them] coming to express their opinions last week and this week. It's important that we hear from citizens and their opinions,” said Jessica Seders, Executive Director of the Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The objective is to break down spending so that it can be better understood by local government officials and businesses so that they can adjust marketing strategies for future events. Seders said that some visitors’ travel and spending habits differ from others. The data from the NHSFR would be collected and made available to local officials, businesses, and the public as well.

“On a larger scale from a marketing perspective is we're trying to bring people to Campbell County, we have to decide where we're going to be used those marketing dollars to [and] if we're going to advertise in other states, in other countries and other [and] where to use our marketing dollars to where it's most effective, so that we can capitalize on that economic growth that is coming into Campbell County,” Seders said on April 20 during a public meeting.

Geofencing technology has been used by political campaigns to gather data on voters and by businesses to gather information on current and potential customers. They use radio frequency identification, Wi-Fi, GPS, or cellular data that triggers a mobile device whenever it leaves or enters an imaginary boundary set for a specific geographic area.

Zartico compiles data but doesn’t collect it themselves. They receive it from other companies that are collecting data, and also receive geolocation data from Near, a company that hosts the largest commercially available geolocation dataset in the world, according to Jay Kinghorn, co-founder and chief innovation officer of Zartico. He said credit card data is provided to Zartico from a company other than Near.

“One of the things that I want to stress related to Zartico and how we use the data, and our partners use the data, [is that] we contain no personally identifiable information, all the data is anonymized,” Kinghorn said.

This means credit card and geolocation data are anonymized before being collected by Zartico. Kinghorn added the company isn’t interested in individual user data such as addresses, social security numbers, banking information, or other personally identifiable information and that what is collected is already being collected via opt-ins through mobile apps, agreements with financial institutions, and cellphone providers, among others. This data is then commonly sold to third-party companies for marketing purposes. The data Zartico receives is aggregated and is intended to show trends rather than individual habits. Even though the company is only a few years old, the data it receives can sometimes be traced back up to a decade, Kinghorn said.

Information that would be gathered at the rodeo would tell Zartico if a mobile device was local or from out of state as well as other locations such as restaurants or hotels, that the device has been. Data about who the device is owned by or how much that person spent would be unknown. Spending data would come from a different data set.

During the public meeting, questions were raised on how much data Near collects in their partnership with Zartico. But Seders said it didn’t matter what Near obtained as the data is being collected anyway.

Some meeting attendees accused tourism and lodging tax board officials of being lazy and not working to obtain spending information themselves from local businesses. State Sen. Troy McKeown (R-Gillette) questioned why collecting this data was necessary at all at the April 20 meeting.

“We have all the data at the state to do this analysis, there is no creeping into people’s lives and gathering their personal data,” he said.

He added that he believed marketing may not be the only reason this data is being collected.

“There’s other reasons they’re doing the geofencing in my mind,” he said.

Seders said that they’ve relied on data from the Wyoming Office of Tourism to get an understanding of how money is spent within the community, but there are limitations as to what can be analyzed with that. Collecting data from individual business would be a significant time-consuming effort, and some may not want to give out that information. She added geofencing is the best way to get this data and have it broken down in smaller time frames that what they would get otherwise.

“Local officials have stated their support for the geofencing technology, saying it will help with decision making.

“I don't think any of you are the enemy at all,” said county commissioner Del Shelstad at the April 26 meeting. “I know you guys are trying to give us information that we request. That's important as we look out to the interest of taxpayers in Campbell County, to know when these events come how much these people are spending overall, how much the event brings to our community.”

“The explanations of what geofencing entails and how it would benefit the community still left others unconvinced.

“One of the most concerning things was it appeared that our lodging board and our tourism board did not do their due diligence in researching this company,” said Sally White, a Gillette resident who objected to tracking at the April 20 meeting. “I don't agree with geofencing. I think that there are other means of collecting that data and that data is already being collected currently by the state through monthly and quarterly reporting.”

The NHSFR is celebrating its 75th anniversary event this year and officials are expecting record attendance. It will be held at the Cam-plex facilities July 16-22.

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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