Amazon expands its biometric-based Amazon One palm reader system to more retail stores

Last fall, Amazon introduced a new biometric device, Amazon One, that allowed customers to pay at Amazon Go stores using their palm. Today, the company says the device is being rolled out to additional Amazon stores in Seattle — an expansion that will make the system available across eight total Amazon physical retail stores, including Amazon Go convenience stores, Amazon Go Grocery, Amazon Books, and Amazon 4-star stores.

Starting today, the Amazon One system is being added as an entry option at the Amazon Go location at Madison & Minor in Seattle. In the next few weeks, it will also roll out to two more Amazon Go stores, at 5th & Marion and Terry & Stewart, the company says. That brings the system to eight Seattle locations, and sets the stage for a broader U.S. expansion in the months ahead.

As described, the Amazon One system uses computer vision technology to create a unique palm print for each customer, which Amazon then associates with the credit card the customer inserts upon initial setup. While the customer doesn’t have to have an Amazon account to use the service, if they do associate their account information, they’ll be able to see their shopping history on the Amazon website.

Amazon says images of the palm print are encrypted and secured in the cloud, where customers’ palm signatures are created. At the time of its initial launch, Amazon argued that palm prints were a more private form of biometric authentication than some other methods, because you can’t determine a customer’s identity based only on the image of their palm.

But Amazon isn’t just storing palm images, of course. It’s matching them to customer accounts and credit cards, effectively building a database of customer biometrics. It can also then use the data collected, like shopping history, to introduce personalized offers and recommendations over time.

The system raises questions about Amazon’s larger plans, as the company’s historical use of biometrics has been fairly controversial. Amazon sold biometric facial recognition services to law enforcement in the U.S. Its facial recognition technology was the subject of a data privacy lawsuit. Its Ring camera company continues to work in partnership with police. In terms of user data privacy, Amazon hasn’t been careful either — for example, by continuing to store Alexa voice data even when users deleted audio files. 

What’s more is the company doesn’t just envision Amazon One as a means of entry into its own stores — they’re just a test market. In time, Amazon wants to make the technology available to third-parties, as well, including stadiums, office buildings and other non-Amazon retailers.

The timing of the Amazon One launch in the middle of a pandemic has helped spur customer adoption, as it allows for a contactless way to associate your credit card with your future purchases. Upon subsequent re-entry, you just hold your hand above the reader to be scanned again and let into the store.

These systems, however, can disadvantage a lower-socioeconomic group of customers, who prefer to pay using cash. They have to wait for special assistance in these otherwise cashless, checkout-free stores.

Amazon says the system will continue to roll out to more locations in the future.

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