Amazon has expanded the use of its palm-scanning technology in its payments system to include age verification for buying alcohol and other age-restricted goods. The Amazon One scanner is being introduced first at Coors Field baseball stadium in Colorado but will also be deployed at more locations in the coming months. Amazon has said that its palm-scanning technology uses cameras to match “multiple aspects of your palm”, including lines, ridges and veins, to the photos users provide, which are stored in the company’s cloud. However, some have questioned the privacy implications of collecting and storing such personal data with the technology giant.
Whilst Amazon One was originally developed as a means of payment, it has also been developed as an identity technology, a feature that James Vincent, a journalist with The Verge, highlighted in 2020. Virginie Colaiuta, a senior vice president at Amazon, recently referred to Amazon One as a “palm-based identity service”.
Once users have signed up for age verification through Amazon One, they can scan their hand in establishments that use the service. When purchasing alcohol, the bartender or cashier sees a “21+” message and the users’ selfie is displayed to verify their age and identity. Users then hover their hand over the device again to submit payment. Amazon One requires a trove of personal information, including images of the user’s government-issued ID, payment information, a selfie and images of their palm.
Amazon claims that its palm recognition data is safe and maintains that the data is kept encrypted and secure. The company says it uses “multi-layered security controls built into the hardware, software, and cloud infrastructure” to ensure data is kept safe.
However, some privacy experts are concerned about the collection and storage of such detailed personal information by a technology giant like Amazon. This new service could expose users to potential security risks and could be used for data profiling and other intrusive purposes. Nevertheless, users of the new Amazon age verification system have the option to take the traditional route of reaching for their wallet, taking out their ID and showing it to the bartender.
It is an interesting question whether customers for Amazon One’s age verification service will embrace it as quickly as other customers have embraced the system when using it as an alternative means of payment. Amazon has already deployed the palm-scanning payment system at its Go stores and in some Whole Foods locations. By introducing a new range of functionalities for the Amazon One system, Amazon could, as Vincent predicted in 2020, increase its reach into peoples’ lives to an unprecedented extent.
Amazon’s announcement of its expansion of the palm-scanning technology has rekindled a wider debate around data privacy and security. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) recently called for an update of digital identity laws in the UK and greater regulation of the use of biometric data to ensure it is used fairly and with transparency. The UK government published a draft code of practice last year setting out recommendations on how organisations should use AI and other biometric technologies. The code includes a series of data protection principles and best practice guidelines. However, it remains to be seen whether such guidelines can keep pace with the evolution of data-driven technologies.
In summary, Amazon has unveiled its latest development on top of the Amazon One payment system: age verification. The technology has initially been deployed in Coors Field baseball stadium in Colorado, but Amazon has plans to roll it out further. However, privacy concerns have been raised about the gathering and storage of data such as images of the user’s palm, personal ID, payment details and selfies. Therefore, it will be interesting to see whether this service is embraced as fast as the palm-scanning payment system, and whether regulatory updates keep up with the evolution of these data-driven technologies.