Why Our Biometric Data Should Be Priceless

Can’t put a price on your identity

Key Takeaways

  • Our biometric data includes everything from our fingerprints to our facial features.
  • Amazon is encouraging customers in its brick-and-mortar stores to try out its palm-scanning technology in exchange for a $10 in-store credit. 
  • Experts say to ensure a successful future of using biometric data in everyday applications, we have to prioritize its storage.
A yellow 3D fingerprint on a blue background.

Andriy Onufriyenko / Getty Images

Everyone’s fingerprints, handprints, and facial features are uniquely their own, but companies are becoming more intrigued by this personal information of ours. 

Tech giants like Facebook and Amazon use biometric data for everything from tagging you in a photo by recognizing your face to purchasing items without cash or a card. However, our biometric data is extremely valuable since it's unique to us, and experts say the more it's used, the more it can become compromised, and we'd have to pay the price. 

"Biometrics is the ultimate way of proving you are who you are," Morey Haber, the chief technology officer at BeyondTrust, told Lifewire over the phone. "The problem is that you can't change biometrics once it's been compromised."

Putting a Price Tag on Our Handprints

Amazon introduced its biometric scanning technology called Amazon One last year, but the company now says it will pay you to use it. According to a TechCrunch report, shoppers who go to one of Amazon’s brick-and-mortar stores and scan their palm get a $10 Amazon credit.

The promotion is to help Amazon use the data to improve its technology. Amazon explains its Amazon One tech as capturing "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." 

I do believe biometrics is the future, but it should not just be stored in a single database with bad encryption.

However, your biometric data is still stored in Amazon's cloud indefinitely, unless you choose to delete the data or don't use the feature for two years. Experts say this is where the tech can get tricky.

"That information is now out there and is potentially insecure," Haber said. "So you're putting yourself at a very high risk by giving it to them regardless of cost."

If $10 seems like a drop in the bucket to you for your biometric data, that’s because it is. But Haber said it’s difficult to put a price tag on that data.

"Ten dollars seems incredibly low to me, but $100 is maybe too high," he said. "But, if they think they're going to get a million people enrolled, and they're spending $10 each, that’s easy math."

However, according to the law, our biometric data is worth a lot more than $10 or even $100. In January, a court ruled that Facebook had to pay out a $650 million settlement to Illinois users.

Since Illinois has some of the strictest biometric laws in the country, the court said that Facebook broke state law when it collected facial recognition data on users without their consent for features like automatic tagging. The settlement means each person who claimed it would get about $350—a lot better than $10.

Making Storage a Priority of Biometric Data 

According to Haber, Amazon's technology that allows you to "check out" with your palm is a brilliant case of what the future of biometric data usage could look like. But he said that the key will be prioritizing how that data is stored.

The Amazon One Palm Reader.

Amazon One

"I think biometric data is going to have to be stored somewhere, someplace sometime, I think we're getting there, whether it is government based, for whatever purposes, there are a variety of techniques to get there," he said. 

Storage is an essential factor in our biometric data because, as we’ve seen in the past, there have been data breaches that compromised millions of people’s unique biometric information. Haber said one way to ensure that future breaches don't happen is to adequately store data by combining biometrics with multi-factor authentication. 

"I look at having a full palm as single-factor," he said. "But if the biometric requirement was that you need to give four fingers or three fingers in a specific order, then you now turn it into multi-factor, and the biometric doesn't matter since you have sequencing stored in your head that could not be duplicated."

Keeping our biometric data secured is extremely important since, ultimately, we would be the ones paying the price if our fingerprints are compromised. Haber said there’s a place for using biometric data in the future, but we must tread lightly. 

"I do believe biometrics is the future, but it should not just be stored in a single database with bad encryption," he said.

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