Identification by palm scan in supermarkets


Amazon continues to work on the unstaffed supermarket. In 65 California branches of the Whole foods supermarket chain, palm scanners are now to be used to identify shoppers beyond doubt. This should allow accounts to be settled without personnel. Data protection does not seem to play a role for Amazon.

Palm scanner to replace app

So far, it is still necessary in Amazon’s test supermarkets to log in via the app before shopping. Otherwise, it would not be possible to clearly assign a purchase to a person. With the in-house developed palm scanner, purchases without people should now become easier: during the checkout process, just hold your hand above the scanner. A smartphone will then no longer be necessary for the purchase – nor will a payment card or cash. After identification, Amazon will charge the cost of the purchase to the account or credit card on file.

A first phase of palm scanner testing in select stores in the northern United States has already been completed. Implementation in Whole Foods supermarkets – the chain is part of the Amazon group – will now work to spread the technology. Implementation in as many as 65 stores could mark the technology’s breakthrough and entice competitors to follow suit.

Privacy issues

However, data protection is left out of the equation. Anyone wishing to use the technology must perform a full palm scan and have the biometric data generated by Amazon permanently stored. These data must be linked to other personal data – otherwise the imprint is worthless and automatic recognition, including the debit of money, is impossible. However, this means that one of the largest companies in the world has access to the most sensitive personal data at all times. This is already problematic in that it is almost impossible to control how Amazon handles this data. In the past, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that Amazon does not attach great importance to privacy. For example, the cameras of the Ring company subsidiary transmitted recordings to the police without consent. In addition, there are hard to assess problems that can arise in the event of a data leak: if criminals get hold of biometrics and related personal data, they could use them in other areas.

A more general criticism of data protection that has erupted again about palm scanners is that of the transparent customer: by identifying all buyers, which is currently done via in-app and/or card payment, Amazon obtains the possibility to create individual preference profiles of all customers – and derive corresponding individualized advertising measures designed to influence behavior.

Employee reviews

In addition to privacy concerns, other criticisms regarding the palm scan implementation have also been raised. For example, Mashable reports the fears of affected store employees. They could lose their jobs as part of the rationalization measures. Amazon attempted to appease and said employees would continue to be an essential part of the shopping experience going forward. However, the question then arises as to what economic benefit palm scans will bring to Amazon.


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