How a Seattle startup found itself in the middle of a bomb threat at SXSW – GeekWire

How a Seattle startup found itself in the middle of a bomb threat at SXSW – GeekWire

How a Seattle startup found itself in the middle of a bomb threat at SXSW – GeekWire

FastBar CEO Brenton Webster. (Photo via FastBar)

FastBar headed to SXSW last week with the intention of powering the payments technology at a concert with The Roots. The Seattle startup instead played a key role in helping solve a bomb threat investigation.

It was an unexpectedly hectic weekend for FastBar, a 7-person startup that provides a cashless payment platform at events across the country.

Anheuser-Busch hired the company for its Saturday night party with The Roots at the Fair Market event venue in Austin, where the annual SXSW festival was held.

Plans quickly changed after a bomb threat email came through FastBar’s support channel on Saturday afternoon. FastBar immediately notified the event organizers, who passed along the information to authorities. Austin has been on high alert after five separate explosions killed two people and wounded at least three others this month.

Police scanned the area and found no threat, but Anheuser Busch decided to cancel the event.

“Due to a security concern, we have made the difficult decision to cancel tonight’s Bud Light x The Roots SXSW Jam,” Anheuser-Busch said in a statement. “After working proactively with SXSW, the Austin Police Department, and other authorities, Bud Light believes this is the best course of action to ensure the safety of our guests, staff, and artists, and appreciate your understanding. We are truly sorry to have to cancel the event, but we felt it was necessary to take all safety precautions.”

Later that evening, the Austin Police Department arrested the suspect thanks in part to FastBar’s data.

“We provided the authorities with the email threat, the registration data for the suspect who made the threat, details about when the suspect accessed FastBar’s system including from which device and IP address,” FastBar CEO Brenton Webster told GeekWire. “Ultimately, this information allowed the authorities to swiftly identify the individual and make an arrest later Saturday night.”

Webster called the entire experience a “very intense situation” that his company had never dealt with — particularly with its data.

“Using this data to address a potential safety concern wasn’t something that we’d really considered before,” he said. “Fortunately, we had the ability to quickly pull relevant data from our systems so we could provide it to the authorities. Onsite, we ended up re-purposing one of our existing email-related features so we could send out an emergency communication to attendees.”

Authorities frequently request data from tech companies, who typically have their own policies for deciding how and when to release information.

“The privacy and security of our user’s data is something we consider very seriously,” Webster said. “In this particular case, public safety was of paramount concern so we felt it prudent to provide the authorities with whatever information we could, as quickly as we could, so they were able to adequately assess the threat, and ultimately arrest the suspect.”

Webster said FastBar, a 9MileLabs portfolio company, plans to develop new features that makes it easier for events to react in case of emergency. The company uses a combination of a digital wristband and smartphone technology to speed up the drink purchasing process at events.

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