Amazon came up with a new scanning technology, palm print recognition (Amazon One), last year in September, which allows customers to pay at amazon GO stores with a simple wave of hand. This technology was introduced amid pandemic period because it is fast, convenient and contactless. Amazon said that they are in active discussions with potential customers before rolling it out to other stores. After the release of Amazon One in GO stores, amazon expanded it to Whole Foods store, book, 4-star stores across Seattle. The expansion grew to stores across the US states, including New York, New jersey, Maryland and Texas.
Amazon One creates a unique hand print for each consumer using vision technology; an AI based software and then associates that hand print to the credit card details that were initially provided by the consumer. A consumer can use this technology without opening an amazon account, but if they do associate their account to their information, they will be able to access their shopping history in the amazon website. But the intriguing feature of Amazon One is that it captures the minute details and characteristics of palm-both surface area detail and subcutaneous features like veins to create a signature of the one’s palm.
The palm scanning was not a great hit as much as anticipated, according to Scott Schaffer, Chief Information Security officer with Blade Technologies. So to boost its usage, amazon is giving an incentive of $10 as promotional store credit.
Why is amazon giving credit for such a captivating technology?
The idea of scanning palm for payments seems to be new and attractive especially after Covid-19 outbreak, but it is requires a lot of care and must be approached with suspicion. Although amazon claims to employ an undisclosed “subset” of anonymized palm data to develop the technology, it can’t be trusted since it is notorious in the domain of respecting customer’s biometric breach. Amazon has allegations for breaking state law, prohibition of the use of personal biometric data without consent of the citizens. It provided the facial recognition technology to the police and law enforcements, and is since subject to the lawsuits.
US Democratic senators including Amy Klobuchar (chairs the senate judiciary committee’s antitrust panel , Jon Ossof, Andy Jassy and Republican senator Bill Cassidy asked the Amazon’s new CEO to share the plans to expand Amazon One, selling of the technology or licensing, number of users, how will be the data used. Some other security organisations like the Big Brother Watch have also raised its concerns against Amazon One by mentioning it as invasive and dystopian technology which solves nonexistent problems.
Amazon clarified that the technology is highly secured by multiple security controls, palm images are not stored on the Amazon One’s device, and rather images are encrypted and sent to a secured cloud area, and also claims to keep data related to palm and its prints indefinitely, unless a consumer deletes it once there are no more outstanding transactions left or if a the consumers doesn’t utilize this feature for two years.. It also explains that the hand print patterns are different for each person and as they are beneath the skin’s surface (vein patterns) makes it difficult to forge. Vice president of Amazon physical retail stores, Dilip Kumar said that “palm recognition is a very private biometric as a person’s identity cannot be determined by looking at an image of their palm”, supposedly a reference to the facial recognition controversy. Amazon has also blocked the police to access the facial recognition after the civil right advocates raised concerns.
Amazon, giving customers a promotional credit as incentive to increase the usage of their palm recognition technology indicates the prevail distrust among its users regarding it. Amazon has definitely made our lives better off and serene by providing the world with technologies that are better than ever, but at the same time it is in a world where it makes us vulnerable and prone to risks related to privacy and data breaches. So we need to stop normalizing these manoeuvres to empower ourselves in the future.