Amazon One offers a convenient way to check out. But is making it easier to shop always a good thing?
Published August 4, 20214 min read
Over the last 30 years, Amazon has made the physical act of buying stuff very easy. Now, the company that brought you one-click ordering and two-day shipping is letting you buy stuff with a wave of your hand.
The company is offering $10 to customers who enroll their palm prints in its checkout-free stores and link the data to their Amazon accounts, TechCrunch reported Monday. Aside from the credit, this will give you a contact-free way to check out at more than 50 Amazon brick-and-mortar locations, including certain Whole Foods and Amazon Books stores.
But there are also privacy and personal finance concerns with the technology.
If you're an Amazon shopper — heck, if you are a consumer living in 2021 — your data has almost certainly been bought, sold, compromised, and exposed. (Read our guide to surviving a data breach.) So your palm print is just another piece of the trove of personal data companies have collected via your credit card, your browsing history, and your location data, right? Paco Underhill, the author of several books on retail and strategic adviser for market research firm Envirosell, believes consumers will prioritize the convenience of this technology over any privacy concerns.
“Do I think this is scary? The answer is yes. Do I think some people will be scared by it? The answer is unequivocally yes,” Underhill says. “But for the overwhelming majority of people this is just another piece of the flood of information that is being collected about us personally.”
But biometric information like your palm print, your fingerprint, or your face, is not like other pieces of data. It’s always connected to you, physically and electronically, and you can’t change it, says Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy for the Consumer Federation of America, an advocacy group.
“There’s just no guarantee that that kind of information couldn’t be shared with law enforcement agencies, couldn’t be hacked and somehow duplicated for nefarious purposes,” she says. “I just wouldn’t want there to be a repository of that kind of intimate personal and immutable information to be assembled by anyone, whether it’s a company or the government.”
A spokeswoman for Amazon wouldn’t comment for this article, but pointed me to a blog post outlining how the company would use data gathered by Amazon One. Amazon keeps the data in a secure area in the cloud, and provides a method for customers to delete their biometric data.
Legally, you have very little say over what companies do with your biometric info once you give it away (or sell it for $10). There’s no federal law limiting what a company can do with biometric data, or how long it can be stored, nor are there requirements about how well it must be secured and whether consumers can ask for it to be deleted, Grant says.
“As with financial account numbers, your hand scan could be used by identity thieves and even dishonest businesses to make or process transactions you never authorized,” Grant says. “But unlike financial account numbers, you don’t have specific rights to dispute those transactions.”
Waiting in line at the grocery store can be annoying, and the promise of this technology is to make it faster. But there are financial benefits to friction when it comes to purchasing. For example, if you’re an Amazon Prime member, you know that rapid shipping times make it much easier to buy stuff you might not have purchased if you had to make a trip to the store.
If you have trouble controlling your spending, sometimes it can help to add obstacles to your ability to make purchases. When it comes to being “budget-conscious,” the second part of the phrase is usually more important, and anything that allows you to spend with less effort makes it more difficult. That’s why Instagram ads can be a budget-buster.
So while the prospect of getting $10 in Amazon bucks in exchange for a picture of your hand might sound appealing, it might just lead to more spending later. Before cashing in, consider what your biometric data is really worth and how selling it might change your shopping habits.
Image: Jonathan Knowles / Getty Images