Contactless payments have become very important in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers are looking for new ways to pay without needing to touch a terminal or even get out their credit card. Amazon wants people to be able to pay with nothing but a quick scan of their palm.
The company’s Amazon One payment system was recently unveiled to do just that. It will first be found in Amazon Go stores but has the potential to expand to other locations. The e-commerce giant’s touch-free payment system relies on technology that is similar to facial recognition.
To be clear, Amazon One isn’t specifically for payments. Instead, the system is an identification technology that scans consumers’ palms to determine who they are. It takes palm reading to a whole new level.
Although Amazon One is new, palm scanning technology has been around for many years. It is often seen as more secure than fingerprint scanning but less intrusive than facial recognition. While it’s easy to steal a picture of someone’s face or lift a fingerprint off of a surface, faking a palm scan is very difficult. This should give consumers peace of mind that their biometric authentication will be safe and secure.
On its FAQ page, the e-commerce giant says that Amazon One works by looking at “the minute characteristics of your palm—both surface-area details like lines and ridges as well as subcutaneous features such as vein patterns.”
For those shopping in Amazon’s physical retail locations, a quick palm scan links them to their Amazon account and/or credit card. New users will be able to link a card to their scan “in seconds” at one of the terminals.
What is the End Game?
Amazon One is certainly a high-tech solution for the cash register. It seems like overkill in most cases. Many retail stores don’t need something so complex.
That being said, the palm-scanning system could be very useful in other venues. For instance, imagine it being used at a stadium. Fans could scan their palm to gain admission with a linked ticket and purchase concessions without the need for a physical card. Employers could use Amazon One as a timeclock, letting employees scan in and out in seconds—again without the need for a card.
With this in mind, there are certainly a few drawbacks to consider. Amazon currently plans to store biometric data from its palm scanners in the cloud. That means your personal biometric data will be floating around in a database somewhere—not that it isn’t already.
The very nature of Amazon One also lends itself to data collection. It would give the company yet another way to capture data on its customers as they interact with the real-world.
Law and policy researcher Elizabeth Renieris told The Verge, “I just think, philosophically and ethically, there’s extreme value in having a physical separation between your transaction infrastructure and your physical self—your personhood and your body. As we merge the two… a lot of the rights that are based on the boundedness of a person are further threatened.”
She adds, “Your physical self is literally becoming a transactional tool,” she says.
Although Amazon One is cool, these issues are worth keeping in mind as biometric-based payment platforms continue to emerge.