In the never-ending battle of Big Tech companies, Amazon has just released a new product: Amazon One, a “contactless way for people to use their palm” to conduct everyday activities like paying at a store or entering a location. According to Amazon, the new service is designed to be “highly secure and uses custom-built algorithms and hardware to create a person’s unique palm signature.” Is this something we can really trust Amazon with?
Granted, at first, this new product sounds crazy. Who in their right mind would willingly send their palm print to Amazon’s cloud? In comparison, Apple’s FaceID and TouchID are safer in the sense that both securely store a person’s biometric information on the device itself, meaning it is sealed off from other apps.
Amazon One’s rollout will start in selected Amazon Go stores, where it will be added to the store’s entry gate as a convenient choice for customers to use when entering the store to shop. In most retail environments, Amazon One could easily become an alternate payment or loyalty card option with a device at the checkout counter next to a traditional point of sale system. On top of that, Amazon thinks it could also be used for entering a location like a stadium, or badging into work.
Customers can already use Amazon One as an entry option at two of Seattle’s Amazon Go stores. It takes less than a minute to sign up using an Amazon One device. First, customers have to insert their credit card. Next, they need to hover their palm over the device and follow the prompts to associate that card with their unique palm signature that Amazon’s computer builds in real-time.
People get the option to enrol with just one palm or both, and then that’s it—they’re now signed up. Once they’re enrolled, all they have to do is to hold their palm above an Amazon One device for about a second or so.
When it comes to customer data, the Amazon One device is protected by multiple security controls and palm images are never stored on the device. Instead, the images are encrypted and sent to a “highly secure area” that Amazon has custom-built in the cloud where they create your palm signature. While the company’s obvious efforts at making potential new customers feel secure might reassure more than one, it should be clarified that your palm signature will be stored on Amazon’s cloud.
If you decide that you want to stop using Amazon One after trying it, in order for the company to delete your biometric data, you’ll have to request to delete data associated with Amazon One through the device itself or via the online customer portal at One.Amazon.com.
Data privacy worries pushed aside, I can’t lie, Amazon One does sound exciting albeit very futuristic, and as microchipping still hasn’t gotten under our skin, palm signatures might be the closest alternative we can get to it. Amazon One represents a quick, reliable, and somewhat secure way for people to identify themselves or authorise a transaction while moving seamlessly through their day.
Palm recognition is considered more private than some biometric alternatives because 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, which means that it becomes harder to use against the owner’s will. And it’s contactless, which in current times is a pretty important point.
Amazon One will give the Big Tech company its own payments solution to compete with Apple Pay and Google Pay. And as we’ve seen after Amazon acquired Whole Foods for $13.7 billion in 2017, it is more than ready to go into physical retail. Will customers raise any concerns over Amazon One’s privacy settings? Let’s wait and see, but I’ve got a little idea of my own…
We’re but a few weeks into the new year and it’s already apparent that Amazon’s ambitious goal for 2019 is to literally inhabit our lives by implementing its vocal assistant Alexa in an increasing number of home devices and wearables. From January 8 to January 11, CES 2019 (one of the world’s biggest tech fairs for consumer technologies) took place in Las Vegas. Alongside the showcasing of some of the most cutting-edge technologies that are about to hit the market, what caught the attention of the press was Alexa’s ubiquitous presence within a considerable amount of products; even within the most unexpected.
Forget about Alexa’s usual spherical aesthetics, Amazon has now launched the Alexa Connect Kit, which is a single chip that enables the AI assistant to be easily integrated within different devices, opening up a whole new spectrum of possible integrations that were otherwise unthinkable. ShadeCraft, for instance, is a new tool that users voice assistance to control garden parasols (yes I know, not the cutting-edge technology you had in mind), and in order for you to lounge in the sun or shade without moving even a finger, Alexa was apparently the best solution.
But what is leading the way of Alexa’s integration with wearable technology—and with that officially becoming an extension of our body—are products like Focals. “Focals come with Alexa built-in. Ask Alexa to play music, hear the news, see the weather, control your smart home and more.” Reads North’s website, the brand behind the custom-built glasses with an invisible display on the lenses (now this is a cutting-edge invention), which is constantly connected with all your apps, subscription accounts, social media and of course, with Alexa integrated in its system in order to make all of these communications smoother.
The popular voice helper was not alone at CES however. Alexa was indeed often debuting the same products with its arch-nemesis the Google Assistant. Curiously enough, Google also just launched the Google Assistant Connect, which is basically the same chip-based tool proposed by Amazon for easy and seamless integration across IoT.
But despite the fact that the Google Assistant has an arguably more accurate search engine (no one competes with Google when it comes to search), as outlined by BBC Technology Desk writers Chris Baraniuk and Leo Kelion, Alexa is still leading the game. According to the Verge, Bezos’ goldmine is estimated to contain almost half of the global smart speaker market with 41 percent of the share, while Google dominates a mere 28 percent in comparison.
Voice helpers are set to become the next organic step in how we humans will communicate via and with machines, and Amazon—with Google just behind it—is making sure its assistant will lead this next step. While previously both internet tycoons were collecting data that we were freely publishing on the internet, with their new integrations, Amazon and Google are now accessing information that belongs to our day-to-day lives offline; information that is otherwise not published online, and that’s a big lump of new personal data for these companies to capitalise on.
As the connected IoT trend grows bigger—penetrating into an increasing (and at times absurd) range of objects, furniture, and accessories inside our most private places—it is crucial that we, the consumers, are aware that with supposed ease and connectivity comes the next step of the invasion of our privacy and the monetisation of our data by some of the world’s biggest private conglomerates.