Amazon Ramps up Use of Biometrics

Published · Aug 05, 2021

Amazon offers customers $10 in credit if they submit palm biometric data and link it to their user account. This will allow buyers to scan their hands to pay for items from selected unstaffed or minimally staffed Amazon stores across the US.

Amazon introduced biometric scanners last year in Seattle. Over the course of the year, it covered more locations across the city before finally taking the tech nationwide. The scanners are now available as far apart as New York, Maryland, and Texas.

The company markets the tech as a “fast, convenient, contactless identity service” (emphasis added) on its official page. The launch is well-timed, with the ongoing pandemic making contactless methods more attractive than ever before.

The company also boasts about the security of this tool, emphasizing that biometric data is unique and tied to individuals physically.

Consumers remain skeptical, though, considering Amazon’s questionable history with biometrics. In 2018, the company was accused of selling facial recognition tech to law enforcement and was even drawn into a lawsuit for the alleged unauthorized use of biometric data.

Amazon confirmed that it would store palm prints “indefinitely”. The company will remove it if the person it belongs to requests it (and doesn’t have an outstanding balance) or if she doesn't use it for two years.

The digitalizing of personal data isn’t only serving consumerist needs. The controversial idea of implementing “vaccine passes” is gaining traction.

People in New York City can now present proof of vaccination. They should use one of the two different apps created for the purpose -the NYC COVID Safe exposure notification and the NYS Excelsior Pass.

This shows further diversification in the already multifaceted database space. Databases are already used for the purposes of background checks. Although information about people’s vaccination status is currently not public, it could become a requirement for employment or other ventures as the economy faces a rickety reopening.

Many wonder if the convenience of digitizing personal data is worth the pitfalls. While Amazon assures the biometrics are safer because they’re personal, that’s also what makes the consequences of misuse even more dangerous.

Instances of ID theft have increased during the pandemic. The use of falsified “old school” credentials is troublesome enough to detect.

What happens when more advanced forms of ID theft arise with the spoofing of biometrics, which is supposedly unfalsifiable? Will services dedicated to guarding against it be enough to protect people?

That’s not to mention the legal use of such data in targeted advertising. The more personalized data is, the more particular and persuasive the tailoring of ads can be.

This, combined with publicly available people search sites, makes Web denizens exposed.

Garan van Rensburg
Garan van Rensburg

Garan is a writer interested in how tech reshapes the environment, and how the environment reshapes tech. You'll usually find him inoculating against future shock and arguing with bots.