Should you let Amazon read your palm? That’s a question local shoppers will consider shortly, as the ecommerce giant rolls out biometric palm reading technology in California Whole Foods stores.
The technology, which will let shoppers scan their palms to pay for groceries, is expected to arrive in San Francisco Whole Foods stores in a matter of weeks. Customers enroll in the program, called Amazon One, by inserting a credit card into a device, and then waving each hand over a lit-up circle on the device. The Amazon One device then scans and records the customer’s “palm signature,” which consists of surface details like lines and ridges as well as vein patterns. Customers can then hover a hand over any Amazon One device to make purchases.
Amazon says it’s already launched the palm payment technology successfully in select cities, and it’s expected to launch at more than 65 Whole Foods stores across California, including in San Francisco.
The company touts the technology’s convenience, saying in a press release that customers won’t “have to fumble with their wallets and handbags to pull out credit cards at checkout counters anymore.”
But Amazon’s ambitions extend beyond just payments, perhaps into being a platform for an all-purpose global identity. Last year, the company announced a partnership with ticketing giant AXS to use Amazon One as contactless entry for event-goers, starting with Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado.
That has privacy watchdogs concerned, with some advocates painting a “Black Mirror”-like dystopia.
“The introduction of Amazon palm scanners could lead to law enforcement cross-checking the data collected at your next concert with the data in immigration or police databases – and then to police harassment, violent arrests, and ICE raids at shows,” writes digital rights nonprofit Fight For The Future on a website with the domain www.amazondoesntrock.com. “It could lead to your personal, unchangeable bodily data falling into the hands of hackers who’ll have access to it for the rest of your life.”
Red Rocks Amphitheater decided to ditch Amazon One after Fight For the Future organized a campaign against it.
Amazon’s data collection practices have troubled privacy advocates on a number of occasions: the company gave police access to Ring camera footage without owners’ consent, according to a congressional report. Likewise, Amazon’s acquisitions of iRobot and One Medical raised concerns.
Amazon says it’s being very careful with customers’ biometric palm data, “in accordance with Amazon’s high security standards.” A customers’ palm data will be deleted once they cancel Amazon One, or if they don’t use Amazon One for two years, according to its website.
Anna Tong can be reached at [email protected]