Amazon is taking the contactless payment craze to a whole new level.
On Tuesday, the Seattle-based tech titan launched Amazon One, a contactless biometric identification platform that recognizes shoppers by their palm when they enter and pay at a store as opposed to having to swipe, insert or tap a card.
The service uses custom-built algorithms and hardware to create a person’s unique recognizable palm signature, according to a blog post from Dilip Kumar, vice president of physical retail and technology at Amazon.
The technology evaluates multiple aspects of the shoppers’ palm for identification, since no two palms are alike. Amazon analyzes the palm with its vision technology and selects the most distinct identifiers on the individual’s palm to create each palm signature.
In the blog, Kumar wrote that Amazon opted to go with palm recognition because it’s considered to be more private that some of the other biometric options, noting that “you can’t determine a person’s identity by looking at an image of their palm.”
“It also requires someone to make an intentional gesture by holding their palm over the device to use,” Kumar added. “And it’s contactless, which we think customers will appreciate, especially in current times. Ultimately, using a palm as a biometric identifier puts customers in control of when and where they use the service.”
Well before the Covid-19 crisis, reports indicated that the hand-scanning technology was in the works, as Amazon readied its entry into a biometric technology market that Grand View Research estimates will approach $60 billion in five years’ time. In December of 2018, Amazon applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a patent describing a contactless biometric identification system that generates images of a person’s palm. Certain locations like material handling facilities, “stores, libraries, hospitals, offices and so forth” might need to control who is allowed access, the application said.
The e-commerce giant has launched Amazon One as an entry option at two of its Amazon Go “just walk out” convenience stores in Seattle. The company says it takes less than a minute to sign up at Amazon Go stores using an Amazon One device. Consumers don’t need even an Amazon account to sign up or start using Amazon One, just a mobile phone number and a credit card.
While a shopper must insert their credit card the first time they access the hand-scanning device, that’s the only time a card is required. Users then hover their palm over the device and follow the prompts to associate that card with the unique palm signature being built by Amazon’s computer vision technology in real time.
Shoppers have the option to enroll with just one palm or both and are officially signed up for Amazon One once a palm is registered. Once the shopper is enrolled, they can use Amazon One to enter the Amazon Go stores, by just holding their palm above the Amazon One device at entry for approximately one second.
The company expects to offer Amazon One as an option in additional Amazon stores in the coming months, and plans to offer the service to third parties like retailers, stadiums and office buildings. The technology could be leveraged as an alternate payment or loyalty card option with a device at the checkout counter next to a traditional point of sale system. When entering a stadium or a workplace, Amazon One could be part of an existing entry point to make accessing the location quicker and easier.
Given the obvious concerns shoppers have around personal data and identity theft, Amazon says the One device is protected by multiple security controls and palm images are never stored on it. Rather, the images are encrypted and sent to a secure area custom-built in the cloud where the palm signature is created. However, Amazon hasn’t provided specific details on exactly how this works.
The data privacy aspect isn’t something that can just be ignored, particularly since Amazon has taken plenty of criticism for issues in the past related to its technology.
For one, Amazon implemented a one-year ban on the use of its biometric facial recognition technology by U.S. law enforcement after taking criticism for selling the services to certain entities, but it didn’t specify whether it will stop selling the technology to police departments during the moratorium or whether it would stop the development of its facial recognition system during the ban.
The facial recognition technology, known as Rekognition, is also the subject of a data privacy lawsuit. Earlier this month, Oregon’s Portland City Council unanimously passed a ban prohibiting use of facial recognition in privately owned places accessible to the public such as stores, banks and hotels, as well as on use by city bureaus. Amazon lobbied against the ban.
Amazon’s home surveillance technology, Ring, has also taken heat since it has partnered with more than 1,300 law enforcement agencies in the U.S.
Amazon says consumers can request to delete data associated with Amazon One through the device itself or via the online customer portal at one.amazon.com.