Amazon is “quietly testing scanners that can identify an individual human hand as a way to ring up a store purchase” with the aim of rolling it out at retail locations, specifically its subsidiary Whole Foods, per a Tuesday report in the New York Post.
According to the Post, Amazon’s system (code-named Orville, presumably not in reference to the popcorn guy) will be synced with Amazon Prime and don’t need a customer to make physical contact with a scanner to automatically charge their linked payment card. The Post wrote that their source described a system that is “accurate to within one ten-thousandth of 1%, but Amazon engineers are scrambling to improve it to a millionth of 1% ahead of its launch,” and can complete a transaction in “less than 300 milliseconds.” Amazon wants to test the system at a limited number of locations beginning next year as a prelude to install it in all U.S. stores, the Post wrote.
Majd Maksad, CEO of personal finance site Status Money, told the Post that he suspected Amazon’s intent with the system is to speed up checkout times as well as encourage shoppers to open their wallets a little wider: “People tend to spend more when they don’t have the experience of touching something tangible like money. The utility of money becomes more ephemeral.”
Of course, linking the system with Prime also means that Amazon will gain access to another stream of biometric data on scores of U.S. consumers. That’s something that should be more than a little concerning, given that the company already provides creepy facial recognition software, Rekognition, to law enforcement with little oversight; it also reportedly pitched Immigration and Customs Enforcement on using that system to target and identify immigrants, as well as lobbied against laws prohibiting indiscriminate employer collection of biometrics. It’s also had what could be charitably described as a subpar record on privacy regarding its Alexa voice assistant, which is arguably surveillance tech packaged as convenience.
Technology ethics researcher Stephanie Hare told the Post she suspected Amazon made the decision to go with hands over faces because “It feels less like a mug shot.” But for all intents and purposes, it is a mug shot, just not one that uses a face.
“We don’t comment on rumors or speculation,” an Amazon spokesperson told the Post.