Hand-Recognition Technology

Amazon's use of biometrics raises privacy concerns

Written by Peggy Keene

Both Amazon and Facebook have made headlines after it was discovered that they were using employees to test new biometric data use measures. Specifically, Amazon has been under increased scrutiny after information was leaked that Amazon not only had facial recognition programs in the works but also a new payment system that uses hands as identification as well.

While both Amazon and Facebook have faced criticism for using their employees as test subjects, raising questions about biometric privacy and its intersection with employee rights under law, the technology giants have continued to plow forward with their plans to integrate the use of biometric data into new methods of identification.

Biometric Data Use Through Hand-Recognition Technology
Amazon’s hand-recognition technology relies on high-tech sensors that do not even require the user to physically touch the scanning surface. Unlike fingerprint scanners currently found on smartphones, the Amazon technology uses a combination of computer vision and depth geometry to identify the user’s hand. The technology processes both the shape and size of each hand while comparing it to a database of hand scans it has stored. After properly recognizing the hand, the computer then charges a credit card on file that is linked to the hand.

Amazon touts this technology as time saving and more secure than traditional methods of payment, and as such, plans to roll it out for its Amazon Prime account holders first. Amazon boasts that the technology is both secure and accurate, with the technology accurate to within one ten-thousandth of one percent.

As Privacy Concerns Grow, Amazon Pushed Forward With Biometric Data Use for Checkouts
While Amazon’s latest foray into biometrics data use has already met criticism from privacy experts, Amazon still plans to introduce the technology to Whole Foods, noting that the pace of the rollout is dependent on its ability to install the technology and train employees. Amazon says its groundbreaking technology can save shoppers and retailers significant time because it can process a charge in less than 300 milliseconds, while the typical traditional transaction takes approximately three to four seconds.

Even with all of Amazon’s enthusiasm for the new technology, privacy experts still warn consumers against blind adoption of such technology. Experts also note that the integration of such technology may encourage users to spend more as studies have shown that consumers tend to spend more when they do not feel tangible reminders of spending money, such as the feel of actual currency or credit cards.

While countries like China already integrate biometric data use for checkouts in some stores, experts note that such use is double-edged in countries with such robust surveillance systems and infrastructure. Moreover, as cyberattacks and hacking become more common forms of espionage between nations, privacy experts note that Amazon’s database of consumer biometric data would be ripe for theft.

Lastly, as has been evidenced by the current COVID-19 pandemic, privacy concerns for the individual consumer may be ultimately outweighed by the promise of new technology that does not require contact and can, thus, potentially limit the spread of contagious diseases. TBJ

This article was originally published on the Klemchuk Intellectual Property Trends blog and has been edited and reprinted with permission.

Headshot of Peggy KeenePeggy Keene is counsel to Klemchuk and focuses on internet law, particularly e-commerce, consumer digital privacy, e-sports, and video game law. She has also counseled clients in trademark portfolio management and served as in-house counsel in the telecommunications industry.

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