If cash is dead and plastic is dying, then scanning some part of the body could be the new way to pay.
Amazon, long a maverick in tech innovation, is reportedly developing a system that would scan shoppers’ hands at checkout, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, the world’s most valuable company—which has made history as the first brand to top the $200 billion value mark, per the Brand Finance Global 500 2020 index—is said to be targeting high-volume merchants like coffee shops, fast-food restaurants and other outfits that “do lots of repeat business with their customers,” WSJ said, and stand to benefit from servicing customers at a rapid clip.
The scheme would see consumers link both their payment details and hand scans in their personal profiles. At checkout, customers would wave their hand over a specially designed terminal, eliminating the need to fumble for their smartphones, as the Amazon Go convenience store setup currently requires.
The paper trail indicates the Seattle-based firm has been preparing for what it hopes could be a new era in in-store payment technology. In December, Amazon applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a patent describing a contactless biometric identification system that generates images of a user’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.
Silicon Valley stalwarts have been making a big play to penetrate payments and muscle out incumbent banks and tradition financial providers, with varied success. Facebook’s attempt to pioneer a game-changing cryptocurrency has been fraught with hiccups. Yesterday, telecom giant Vodafone became the latest partner to pull out from the Facebook-founded Libra Association, which has seen a steady exodus by former consortium members PayPal, Mastercard, Visa, eBay, Stripe, Mercado Pago and Booking Holdings.
And on the biometric front, Amazon isn’t alone in hoping customers won’t mind giving up their bio data in order to move seamlessly through the world. In 2018, SensibleVision released 3DWallet, an artificial intelligence-powered system that uses a network of cameras and facial recognition technology to let customers check out free of cards or cash.
“Today’s shoppers are used to instant online purchases, and physical retailers should be able to offer exactly the same level of convenience while making the process even more secure than with credit cards,” co-founder and CEO George Brostoff said at the time. 3DWallet was designed to help “brick-and-mortar shops, many of which are in trouble, compete with the digital world when it comes to customer experience,” he added.
“We don’t wait in line when we’re shopping on the web—and we shouldn’t have to in stores,” Brostoff said.
Meanwhile, governments hope to tighten up the reins on the privacy front, even as big tech forges ahead with innovation that gobbles up even more personal information. Following 2018’s enactment of the GDPR in the European Union, California inaugurated 2020 with a new consumer privacy act that’s seen as setting the tone for federal data management laws. The mandate stipulates what companies can and can’t do with customer data and gives consumers stronger rights and protections if their information is compromised in a breach.