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Here’s how San Franciscans feel about the Amazon palm readers popping up in Whole Foods

Amazon One Whole Foods Checkout
Amazon One palm scanning technology at Whole Foods. | Source: Courtesy Amazon

By the end of the year, you won’t need a phone or wallet to pay for groceries at any of the 500-plus Whole Foods in the country, Amazon said, announcing it would expand the company’s controversial palm-reading tech to all stores nationwide.

The scanning technology, dubbed Amazon One, allows a customer to pay at checkout by waving their palm over a scanning device. 

Amazon said in a press release that 200 Whole Foods stores across 20 states already have the palm readers, including in California, Colorado, Nevada, New York and Texas.

The Whole Foods location in San Francisco's Noe Valley neighborhood. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Amazon Prime members who link their accounts to Amazon One will have savings automatically applied to their grocery purchases with a wave of their hand.

The palm-scanning tech has also been rolled out at some airports. Elsewhere, it’s allowed customers to buy alcohol without needing to pull out a photo ID. An attempt to use the palm scanners at the Red Rocks concert venue fell through after several musicians protested the move.

San Franciscans have been using the technology at Whole Foods stores since at least March, but not everyone is enamored with it.

“It just creeps me out,” said Brad Raney, a customer at the Noe Valley Whole Foods, where staff said palm scanners see frequent use. 

Brad Raney | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

“I don’t like that they have my handprints, my fingerprints," Raney said. "Could that be abused?”

Other customers seemed more gung-ho about the technology.

“I’m excited; can’t wait,” said Sheana O’Sullivan, a Noe Valley Whole Foods customer who described herself as an “early adopter” of new tech. “It’s kind of a thrill. It’s cutting edge.”

‘You Can’t Get a New Palm’

The adoption of palm scanners concerns privacy advocates, who caution that companies storing biometric data can present a huge security risk, especially if used to access things like your bank account or to unlock your front door.

“If your Social Security number is hacked, it’s a hassle, but you can get a new one,” said Evan Greer, director of digital rights group Fight for the Future. “If someone steals a biometric scan of your palm, you can’t get a new palm.”

Evan Greer | Source: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Greer also said that having a company storing biometric information leaves the door open to law enforcement accessing that data. Law enforcement can access door-cam footage from Ring products, a home security line of cameras owned by Amazon, and has obtained footage without homeowners’ consent. Greer said it isn’t hard to imagine police obtaining handprint data in a similar fashion.

“If lots of people use this, all of sudden private corporations become a backdoor database of fingerprints,” Greer said.

Leaks of private data also happen frequently. The City of Oakland suffered a ransomware attack in February which resulted in a data leak, and several national departments, including the U.S. Department of Energy, were targeted in a cyberattack in June.

READ MORE: San Francisco Battles Rising Cybercrime ‘Tsunami’ After Oakland Hit Hard

O’Sullivan said she understood where skeptics of the palm-reading tech come from, but that she accepts the lack of privacy that has accompanied the digital age.

“Everything’s already out there, with Facebook, social media,” O’Sullivan said. “While there are definitely things you don’t want stolen, like Social Security [numbers], I think a lot of it is fear-mongering.”

Sheana O'Sullivan | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Amazon stores biometric data in the cloud, including the veins and lines of customers’ hands. Users who don’t want to use the scanners can delete their palm data from the company’s website.

Whole Foods did not respond to requests for comment by publication time.