Amazon’s slowly making good on its goal of one day turning your entire body into one big money oozing meatsuit. First up, your palms.
In the coming weeks, Amazon plans to expand its “Amazon One” palm reading biometric payment system to 65 Whole Foods Markets throughout California, starting with locations in Malibu, Montana Avenue, and Santa Monica. The expansion, first reported on by The Verge, marks the biggest step forward yet in Amazon’s effort to normalize biometric payments.
Amazon One works by linking a customers’ credit card to their unique palm signature. Users then hover their hand over a palm reader to pay, in this case for their overpriced groceries. Prior to the recent expansion effort, One palm readers were limited to seven Whole Foods Stores and a handful of Amazon Go and Amazon Book stores.
The ecommerce behemoth’s end goal here is to expand One’s use beyond its own business and provide the technology to third parties. Though primarily used as a contactless payment method currently, Amazon’s previously suggested One can also potentially be used as identity verification tools for offices. You can imagine a future where football stadiums, Midtown offices, concert venues, and neighborhood grocery stores partner with Amazon to roll out palm reading kiosks.
Anticipating privacy concerns, an Amazon spokesperson told Gizmodo in an email that “customer privacy is a foundational design principle for Amazon One.” The spokesperson said that while palm signatures are captured in-store the images are encrypted and stored in Amazon’s cloud.
Here’s a creepy video explaining it all.
Amazon’s palm payment system has developed in tandem with its Just Walk Out cashierless checkout system. That system deploys a system of monitoring cameras, sensors, and AI that automatically detect what customers take off of shelves while they are shopping. Their credit cards are automatically billed once they exit the store.
Just Walk Out’s recent adoption by third party businesses provides a glimpse of what could come for One. Amazon previously partnered with Hudson to bring its technology to select small retail stores in Dallas Love Field and Chicago Midway Airport. Last year, the company incorporated Just Walk Out in its first full-size Fresh-branded grocery store. More recently in April the Houston Astros baseball team partnered with Amazon to use Just Walk Out in two stores within the stadium where fans can buy an assortment of souvenirs, snacks, soda, and ready-to-go booze.
With Just Walk Out and One, Amazon’s hoping a recent uptick and interest in cashierless, contactless payment systems accelerated by the pandemic will last long term. A survey conducted last year by Visa found that around half of small business owners and consumers spread out across eight countries thought contactless payments were one of the most important safety messages a store could provide. 47% of customers in that survey said they wouldn’t shop at a business that doesn’t offer a contactless payment option. Whether or not consumers will extend that same sentiment outward a payment system that collects and stores your unique biometrics traits however remains to be seen.
Betting against Amazon in this case though is probably a bad idea. The company has continually sucked up more and more data on its users over the course of its 28-year-history with little meaningful pushback in the opposite direction. An increasing share of consumers are embracing biometrics as well in the name of “convenience.” The Transportation Security Administration and a handful of commercial airlines have already begun rolling out “optional” facial recognition verification systems at check in and border crossing, both of which have seen increased use.