If you haven’t given Amazon the keys to your front door, don’t fret. The tech giant is now offering $10 in credit to those who enroll their biometric data into the company’s palm print recognition system, Amazon One.
It all started in September 2020, when Amazon introduced biometric palm print scanners at its cashier-less stores across the US, including Amazon Go and Amazon Books. Dubbed Amazon One, the scanners presented itself as a payment verification system where customers could merely wave their palm prints and zip their way through the checkout booth.
According to the tech giant, its palm scanning hardware “captures the minute characteristics of your palm—both surface-area details like lines and ridges as well as subcutaneous features such as vein patterns—to create your palm signature,” which is then stored in the cloud and used to confirm your identity when you’re in one of its stores. Since February 2021, Amazon has expanded this technology across 50 locations in the US, including some Whole Food stores. As of April, Amazon reported “thousands” of customers having enrolled in the service.
In its latest promotional push, the tech giant is now offering $10 in credit to entice customers into using the technology. All you have to do to earn the credit is enroll your palm print at one of the stores and link it to your Amazon account. The credits can then be claimed via email and used on any product sold on the Amazon marketplace.
Although Amazon One is marketed as a “fast, convenient, contactless way for people to use their palm to enter, identify and pay,” critics state that the technology is unnecessary, with similar benefits provided by contactless payment cards. Sure, the idea of contactless anything is appealing over the pandemic but given Amazon’s controversial brush with facial recognition technology—which it historically sold to the police and law enforcements by the way—privacy concerns and identity theft are on the cards.
By linking your palm print to Amazon, you are essentially granting the company the right to use the data it collects—like your shopping history—to target advertisements, offers and recommendations to you over time. Amazon also admitted that it will store your palm data indefinitely, unless you choose to delete the data yourself. However, this factor comes with certain clauses. Users can only delete their data if there are no outstanding transactions left or if they don’t use the feature for a stretch of two years.
“The advantage [of your palm print] is that it’s on you all the time, this isn’t something you can lose, but that’s also a disadvantage because you can never change it,” said Reuben Binns, a security researcher and University of Oxford academic, to The Verge. “You can never change your palm like you change your password or other identification tokens.”
The move has also been criticised as “the dystopian future of science fiction.” “It’s horrifying that Amazon is asking people to sell their bodies, but it’s even worse that people are doing it for such a low price,” said Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the New York-based Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, to TechCrunch.
“Biometric data is one of the only ways that companies and governments can track us permanently. The more we normalize these tactics, the harder they will be to escape. If we don’t [draw a] line in the sand here, I am very fearful of what our future will look like.”
While much of Amazon’s contactless technology is still at its infancy, the very fact that the tech giant is using cash incentives to encourage its own service—in turn churning sales on its own platform—proves how far companies would go to ‘enrich’ consumer experiences irrespective of their long-term risks to customers. But then again, this is not a big leap for Amazon delivery drivers, who have already been forced to provide their biometric data as “a condition of delivering Amazon packages.”
In order to deliver all those next-day deliveries on time, Amazon uses millions of subcontracted drivers for its Flex delivery programme, started in 2015. Drivers sign up via a smartphone app where they can choose shifts, coordinate deliveries and report problems. Think of Uber’s false sense of freedom for its employees and you’ve pretty much got the same thing happening here with Amazon Flex. But the reliance on technology doesn’t end there as drivers are also monitored for performance and fired by algorithms with little human intervention, according to a recent Bloomberg report.
As much as we love and depend on algorithms, it’s crucial that we understand how even those can mess up from time to time. According to the report, the AI system used by Amazon Flex can often fire workers seemingly without good cause. One worker said her rating—ranging from Fantastic, Great, Fair, or At Risk—fell after she was forced to halt deliveries due to a nail in her tire.
Over the next several weeks, she managed to boost it to Great but her account was eventually terminated for violating Amazon’s terms of service. She contested the firing, but the company wouldn’t reinstate her.
Another driver was unable to deliver packages to an apartment complex because its gate was closed and the residents wouldn’t answer their phones. Shortly after, in another building, an Amazon locker failed to open. His rating quickly dropped and he spent six weeks trying to raise it, only to be fired for falling below a prescribed level.
In those instances, when a driver feels they’re wrongly terminated, there’s not much recourse, either. Drivers must pay $200 to dispute any termination, and many have said it’s simply not worth the effort. “Whenever there’s an issue, there’s no support,” said Cope, 29. “It’s you against the machine, so you don’t even try.”
Amazon became the world’s largest online retailer in part by outsourcing its many different operations to algorithms. For years, the company has used algorithms to manage the millions of third-party merchants on its online marketplace, drawing complaints that sellers have been booted off after being falsely accused of selling counterfeit goods and jacking up prices.
More and more, the company is also ceding its human-resources operation to machines, using software not only to manage workers in its warehouses but to oversee contract drivers, independent delivery companies and even the performance of its office workers. People familiar with the strategy say Jeff Bezos believes machines make decisions more quickly and accurately than people, reducing costs and giving Amazon a competitive advantage.
Inside Amazon, the programme has been praised for its success. Around 4 million drivers have downloaded the app worldwide including 2.9 million in the US, according to Bloomberg’s report. More than 660,000 people in the US have downloaded the app in the last five months alone.
Amazon said drivers’ claims of poor treatment and unfair termination were anecdotal and don’t represent the experience of the vast majority of Flex drivers. “We have invested heavily in technology and resources to provide drivers visibility into their standing and eligibility to continue delivering, and investigate all driver appeals,” Spokesperson Kate Kudrna told Bloomberg.