Experts Worry About New Palm-Reading Payment Tech

Too much information

Key Takeaways

  • Amazon One is a new palm-reading tech for making payments, allowing entry to stores, and more.
  • Amazon One is now available in New York, and Amazon hopes that others will start using it soon.
  • Experts are concerned that users could be opening themselves up to privacy-invading surveillance from corporations and governments.
Amazon's palm reading security technology.

Amazon

Amazon’s palm-reading payment system, Amazon One, is now available in New York and Washington, but experts say the system’s convenience puts too much of your information at risk.

Our world is driven by convenience. Fast food restaurants, delivery services, and even payment options that require nothing more than a press of a button or swipe of a phone are staples of our daily lives. Amazon One is looking to make your life even more convenient by removing the need to carry a credit card or any other payment system around with you.

Instead, it hopes to use palm-reading technology to approve your purchases. This will make it so that you only need to physically interact with the items you want to put into your shopping cart. While convenient, experts warn that this new technology gives Amazon too much control over your information and could make it easier for hackers to access biometric data that you can’t change.

"It is hard to imagine Amazon One will be limited to being simply a convenient payment method," Pankaj Srivastava, a privacy expert with experience in security, tech and the Internet-of-Things, told Lifewire in an email.

"Whatever Amazon claims now is its intention, their ability to utilize a massive database of biometric information for other applications is what concerns me the most."

By the Palm of Your Hand

When it originally introduced Amazon One, the company noted that it could be used as a payment system—which we already see in select locations—and as additional parts of an entry system at stadiums, workplaces, and other buildings. Because the palm of your hand is unique, it could effectively remove the need for security badges and other physical items.

A security concept image showing the collection of personal information, including biometric data.

Vertigo3d / Getty Images

The idea sounds good on paper, but the privacy concerns that come with it aren’t something to ignore. You already use biometric data if you utilize the Face ID or fingerprint scanners on your smartphone, but Srivastava warns that systems like Amazon One could allow the company to track your movements even more, something some users may not be okay with.

"Amazon already knows a great deal about how we shop online, and now with Amazon One, it will be able to understand how people interact with their individual physical environments—shopping, work, and entertainment," Srivastava explained.

There also is the potential that these kinds of devices could help herald in the expansion of biometrics being used in more public spaces, allowing corporations and governments to easily track your activity.

"Amazon previously sold biometric facial recognition services to US law enforcement, proving that it is more than happy to work hand-in-hand with the government if it is good for its bottom line," Ray Walsh, a privacy expert with ProPrivacy, told Lifewire in an email.

"As consumers become more desensitized to these kinds of technologies, they run a severe risk of a snowball effect that leads to governments rolling out similarly invasive tracking.”

These concerns aren’t unfounded. Some places in the country have already started working to ban the use of facial ID recognition and other mass surveillance tech due to the concerns of how it might be used negatively.

In the Cloud

Outside of tracking and following your movements, Srivastava also is concerned about how Amazon stores the data.

"Amazon already knows a great deal about how we shop online, and now with Amazon One, it will be able to understand how people interact with their individual physical environments."

"The big difference between Amazon One and other common biometrics is that Amazon stores your palm information in the cloud and not locally on your device, which also creates an incentive for hackers. Unfortunately, once a person loses that information to a hacker, it is impossible for them to change their palm," he said.

There is a silver lining, though. According to Srivastava, the Amazon One system uses a new tech called vein recognition technology, which should at least help cut down on would-be hackers being able to use an image of your palm to make purchases. Still, he believes the risks outweigh the benefits.

"Given that there are several convenient payment methods already available to consumers, I do not believe that Amazon One offers a huge new value to consumers," he told us.

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