The Amazon Panopticon Comes for Whole Foods

Amazon announced its cashierless technology is coming for two Whole Foods locations in 2022.

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Heads up, Whole Foods fans: Your new store might feature a distinct lack of checkout lines.

On Wednesday, Amazon announced it would be rolling out its cashierless “Just Walk Out” technology to two Whole Foods locations set to open next year—one in Washington, DC, and the other in Sherman Oaks, California. The tech uses a combination of store-wide sensors and cameras to track what shoppers are grabbing from shelves, so they can, well, “just walk out” with their groceries, rather than waiting in the checkout line.

Whole Foodies who want to try out the feature can opt-in as soon as they enter the store, either by scanning their Whole Foods or Amazon app, by tapping a credit or debit card linked to their Amazon account, or by using the company’s palm-scanning payment system, Amazon One, Amazon said in its announcement. After using their check-in of choice, shoppers can mosey around the store the same way they always do, and upon exiting, they just repeat the same app-scanning/card-tapping/palm-reading method they used when they walked in. After walking out, the groceries get charged to their Amazon account, leaving those customers with an e-reciept they can access via the Whole Foods app.

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Of course, this is assuming you want to use the tech. When Whole Foods customers opt-in to the convenience of just walking out with their groceries, they’re also opting into the massive surveillance infrastructure that makes Just Walk Out possible. While Amazon hasn’t offered many details about the tech’s specifics, the company’s patent filings suggest that it uses a combination of RGB cameras, depth-sensing cameras, and infrared sensors to monitor every aisle a customer walks through and every item they pick up or put down—even if they don’t put it into their cart. Other data collected includes your purchase history, your credit card data, and who knows what else.

The good news is that Whole Foods die-hards don’t need to opt into this tech if they don’t want to. Per Amazon’s press release, people who want to pay cash, use prepaid cards or giftcards, EBT, eWic, or just feel plain creeped out by Just Walk Out can use the store’s self-checkout lanes—or a store’s customer service booths—instead.

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The bad news is that this tech is going to be harder and harder to escape over time. Aside from rolling it out in Amazon Go stores this past March and Amazon Fresh stores a few months later, Amazon also signed a deal last year to start licensing it out to third party retailers. While it’s struggled to take off thus far, we’ve seen smaller stores in airports and malls pick up Amazon’s tech for themselves, and the company has continued to aggressively pitch the tech to larger and larger outlets. Meanwhile, there have been smaller upstarts pitching their own comparable tech to these same retailers in their own feeble attempt to compete with the ecommerce giant. And as more and more customers start to fall for the speed and efficiency that come with cashier-free shopping, it’s only a matter of time before shopping and spying become synonymous.