24 Hour Fitness, Vendor Quell Fears of Cardless Check-in System

When 24 Hour Fitness rolled out its cardless check-in system, which uses fingerprint scanning instead of membership cards, one of the questions many of its members had was what, exactly, their club would do with their fingerprints.

24 Hour, along with MorphoTrak Inc., the biometric and identity management company that installed the system in all 24 Hour clubs, stated in press releases and on the 24 Hour website that no fingerprint information would be stored by the company or in the club.

The chance that two people would have the same fingerprint is 10 to the negative 86th power, says Gary Jones, senior manager of the certified partner channel at Alexandria, VA-based MorphoTrak. That’s zero followed by a decimal point followed by 85 zeros followed by a 1.

And because 24 Hour members also enter a 10-digit numeric code—usually their telephone number—upon entering their club, the chances of any sort of identity problems are basically nil.

“Our templates are so well-encoded and encrypted, if anyone were to ever try to recreate the fingerprint image, there is just absolutely no chance on earth that they’re going to come up with the fingerprint image,” Jones says. “It’s quite simply impossible. There are a number of people who have tried, but the bottom line is you will never get back to the original fingerprint image.”

24 Hour initially began testing a fingerprint system almost 10 years ago, when founder Mark Mastrov was still the CEO of the San Ramon, CA-based company. Although 24 Hour is the only major club company to roll out the system in the United States, Mastrov says similar systems are used in other clubs around the world, such as Energy in Chile, McFit in Germany and DiR, a club chain in Spain.

When 24 Hour piloted the system, concerns about the security of the system were few and far between. The main complaints from members came after the system was removed at the end of the pilot period, Jones says. A few members inquired about installing the fingerprint technology in their own businesses, he adds.

Last year, 24 Hour introduced the system in all 420 of its clubs in 17 states, with the last of the installations occurring in its Florida clubs last November.

MorphoTrak develops fingerprint technology for hundreds of companies, both in governmental systems and vertical markets, such as hospitality and education. Governmental systems mandate that fingerprint images are stored by the agency, but they are not stored by MorphoTrak, Jones says. The technology prohibits a company in the consumer sector—such as 24 Hour—to store the information.

The fingerprint databases featured on TV police shows relate to governmental systems that mandate keeping fingerprints on file for background checks, identity checks and forensics. However, private entities that use the system for access control do not need a fingerprint database, so the system never records or retains the actual fingerprint image. The system’s scanners look for unique characteristics in the fingerprint and use those characteristic points to create a template, which is basically a series of 1s and 0s—binary codes that are encrypted and stored for future reference.

When a member enrolls in the cardless check-in system at 24 Hour, staff at the club take three scans of that member’s right and left index fingers. Both fingers are scanned so a member can check in with either finger if one hand is injured or otherwise occupied. During the scanning process, the system charts the distances between a few distinct points unique to the member. An identifying number is created based on those measurements.

24 Hour states on its website that the data stored cannot be re-created into a fingerprint image. 24 Hour also states that neither it nor MorphoTrak sells, leases, rents, trades or transfers the data to third parties.

Because of the cardless check-in system, 24 Hour no longer prints membership cards, thus reducing production and mailing costs. Although 24 Hour did not give specific figures as to how much money is saved, Dan Benning, 24 Hour’s north division president, said the company issued one million cards in 2009 to new members and to current members who requested replacements. The replacement cards cost members $15 each.

The new system has allowed front-desk staff to attend to other duties, but it has not led to a reduction in club staff, Benning says.

“We didn’t do this from a labor-saving standpoint,” Benning says. “What we found in clubs is this actually allows our front-desk staff to be more engaged with members as they are coming and going from the club.”

The system, which lessens the chance of someone using a member’s card or “tailgating” by using the same card to enter the club, is optional to members. Those who choose not to be enrolled use a government-issued ID to enter the club. However, 24 Hour says 97 percent of its members use the cardless check-in system, a percentage that equates to more than 3.2 million members.

“The reason we put it in place was we were listening to members, and they were looking for an easier way to get in and out of clubs,” Benning says. “We worked to find a solution that would meet that.”

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