Senators quiz Amazon on palm scanning tech

Lawmakers fret about the privacy implications of Amazon One

Three senators have written to Amazon with questions about the company's Amazon One palm scanning technology.

The bipartisan group expressed concerns about the biometric system's effect on privacy and its potential to bolster Amazon's market position. The letter, from senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, queries the company's handling of biometric data gathered using the service. 

"Amazon’s expansion of biometric data collection through Amazon One raises 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," the letter said. 

Unveiled in September 2020, Amazon One is a contactless payment system that uses palm scanning for applications, including making payments, granting access to locations, presenting loyalty cards, or clocking into work. 

The company began rolling it out at its automated Amazon Go stores, which already used technologies like computer vision to replace traditional checkout operators. It has since arrived at some Whole Foods locations, which Amazon acquired in 2017. 

Amazon said the service would be an optional entry method at its stores, which would still allow customers to enter using the Amazon app. At launch, the e-commerce giant also vowed to offer customers the devices, including retailers, stadiums, and office buildings. 

"Our concerns about user privacy are heightened by evidence that Amazon shared voice data with third-party contractors and allegations that Amazon has violated biometric privacy laws," said the letter, referring to reports the company violated facial recognition privacy law in Illinois by using residents' faces to train its algorithms.

It also cited a class-action lawsuit filed this month against Amazon for allegedly violating the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) with its Alexa system. 

"We are also concerned that Amazon may use data from Amazon One, including data from third-party customers that may purchase and use Amazon One devices, to further cement its competitive power and suppress competition across various markets," the senators said. 

Amazon recently offered consumers a $10 credit to enroll themselves on Amazon One. To do so, customers must present their credit cards and scan their palms with the Amazon One device. 

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Rather than storing scans locally, the devices send them back to Amazon's cloud. This was an area of concern for the senators, who compared it with biometric scanning technology from Apple and Samsung, which store information locally on the device. 

The letter asked Amazon several questions, including when the company plans to expand its use of Amazon One; how many third-party customers has it sold its technology to; how many users have signed up for the service; and whether the company pairs the scans with data from biometric systems. 

The senators also asked the company to describe how it uses data from the service, with a special focus on whether it uses the data to personalize advertisements or product recommendations.

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