AMAZON ASKS FOR A HAND—YOURS
“Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.” (Proverbs 2:9-11)
Who wants a quick $10? Amazon is looking for a show of hands.
The e-commerce giant attracted attention earlier this month when it began offering customers $10 of store credit if they agreed to let their palm prints be scanned into the Amazon One program. According to Amazon, this is an “identity service that uses your palm… to enter, identify, and pay. Simply by being you.”
In other words, Amazon wants a database of its customers’ biometrics, their truly distinct physical characteristics. Specifically, the company wants the palm, which, as Amazon says, “is a unique part of you.”
“It doesn’t go anywhere you don’t and can’t be used by anyone but you,” the company adds.
While Amazon One’s palm service is currently only available in select Amazon and Whole Foods locations, the company appears interested in expanding the program in more of its stores and beyond to third party businesses.
Critics are wary of Amazon’s new biometric experiment given existing data privacy concerns related to the company’s popular Alexa and Ring devices. For example, Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the New York-based Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, told TechCrunch. “Biometric data is one of the only ways that companies and governments can track us permanently. You can change your name, you can change your Social Security number, but you can’t change your palm print.”
“The more we normalize these tactics, the harder they will be to escape,” he added.
Similarly, Evan Greer of Fight for the Future, said to the Washington Post, “People should have a right to pay for things that they need without subjecting themselves to surveillance.”
Some companies like Apple have already taken steps to allow facial recognition and finger prints to unlock phones and payment opportunities, but Amazon is reportedly pushing into new territory. Biometric information in other programs are generally localized on consumer devices, but Amazon is sending its information to cloud servers.
That biometric data collection triggered a letter of inquiry last week from U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.). Of note, Klobuchar chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights.
The senators pointed to “serious questions about Amazon’s plans for this data and its respect for user privacy, including about how Amazon may use the data for advertising and tracking purposes.” Also, pointing to past data protection issues for the company, they emphasized pressing security concerns “when it comes to immutable customer data, like palm prints.”
The senators want a response from Amazon by the end of this month. But the response that may be most important is from us.
In an article on biometrics and the “privacy paradox”, one top psychology researcher recently wrote, “We will often say we value our privacy and want to protect our data, but then, with the promise of a quick reward, we will simply click on that link, accept those cookies, login via Facebook, offer up that fingerprint and buy into that shiny new thing.”
So do we want the $10? What about the convenience Amazon promises? Those are decisions we’ll all have to make. Let’s be thoughtful and prayerful as the biometric questions come to us.
What are your thoughts on Amazon offering this deal? How can we exercise wisdom in these days? Let us know your thoughts and prayers for America in the comments below!
(Aaron Mercer is a Contributing Writer with two decades of experience in Washington, D.C.’s public policy arena. Photo by Istock)
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