Amazon promotes this technology as a “fast, convenient, contactless identity service that uses your palm” to pay. It’s pretty simple. All you do is hover your palm over the device, similar to the computer vision technology used for unlocking smartphones. When your identity is confirmed, payment is processed using the credit card on file.
No credit card, no cash, just your palm to pay.
In hindsight, this sounds convenient. However, biometric technology is less about ease of paying at the counter and more about identity and broad applicability.
Future Use of Amazon One
The usage of the Amazon One technology will eventually expand beyond palm-based payment. Amazon envisions expanding this technology in other ways. “We believe Amazon One has broad applicability beyond our retail stores, so we also plan to offer the service to third parties like retailers, stadiums, and office buildings so that more people can benefit from this ease and convenience in more places,” says Dilip Kumar, vice president of Amazon’s physical retail business.
The issue with this broad applicability is it would force individuals to use this technology against their consent. It is true society is shifting in the direction of a cashless society. However, using your unique palm print to enter into buildings and pay for products and services is a step in a direction many won’t venture. Additionally, this technology, if misused, raises significant privacy issues.
Privacy Issues and Amazon’s Controversial Past
Identity theft and cybercrime pose a significant challenge to many consumers, “resulting in billions in financial losses each year.” Over the years, we’ve seen significant data breaches involving Yahoo, Facebook, Google’s Gmail, Twitter, and many others. For example, in 2017, Equifax, one of the largest consumer credit reporting agencies in the United States, had its system breached. The agency reported sensitive personal data of 148 million Americans had been compromised. The data compromised included names, home addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, social security numbers, and driver’s license numbers. Additionally, approximately 209,000 consumers’ credit card information was also exposed during the data breach.
Over the years, many companies who work with sensitive personal data have shown the inability to protect consumers from data breaches. One has to question if Amazon can assure its consumers and users that their Amazon One technology is safe from breaches? No one wants their personal information, including their palm prints, to be stolen by hackers or used outside of their consent.
This technology’s second big issue is if Amazon has more extensive plans for using this technology, given their controversial past with biometrics. Amazon sold their biometric facial recognition services, Rekognition, to law enforcement around the US. Its technology was the subject of a data privacy lawsuit. Its Ring technology continues to collaborate with law enforcement. Despite privacy concerns, partnerships with law enforcement ramped up in 2020. When it comes to user agreements around data, Amazon confirms it “holds on to Alexa data even if you delete audio files.”
The biggest question around Amazon One technology is, can Amazon be trusted with users’ data? Given their questionable past, the answer seems to be ”doubtful.”
But will consumers and users have a choice if this technology becomes widely used?
Why it Matters
Over the past several years, we’ve witnessed a growing number of data breaches across many industries that are in the business of working with personal data. These breaches have shown how vulnerable and ill-equipped companies are in securing personal data.
Amazon One is a fascinating new technology; however, it’s difficult to trust that Amazon won’t use it beyond just a convenient way to pay. Will Amazon collaborate with law enforcement or other governmental agencies to provide biometric data without its users’ consent?
Putting aside the concerns mentioned above, biometric technology appears to have broader applicability. New technologies are coming out to the market for finger vein, voice, and facial biometrics. There is general applicability of biometric technology, including internet log-ins, browser-based interactions with contact centers, mobile fleet control, parking space management, and background checks.
Future technology will increasingly involve biometric technology, even more so, with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are concern with future applicability of this type of technology.
Sadly, there are no federal regulations around biometric technology. Nevertheless, a few states, Illinois, Texas, and Washington, have passed laws regulating this technology. Hopefully, more states will pass similar laws in the future to protect consumers’ biometric data.
Michael Price is a Founder and editor for ThinkCivics. He has been writing about politics, government, and culture for over a decade. He has a BA in Political Science and an Masters in Public Administration.