Buy a beer with the wave of your palm? Amazon says ‘yes please’

Amazon One's technology will now verify customers' ages, as well as take payments.

Amazon One's technology will now verify customers' ages, as well as take payments. Photo: Amazon

A “biometric payment system” that uses people’s palms to pay for products, has sparked privacy concerns.

The technology will allow sports fans in the US to soon buy a drink with just a wave of their palm.

Retail behemoth and tech giant Amazon is behind the world-first implementation of its Amazon One system at Coors Field baseball stadium in Denver, Colorado.

But this rollout comes with a twist, as the stadium will use the divisive technology for age verification, as well as taking payments.

“As the first sports stadium to enable cutting-edge palm recognition technology like Amazon One for age verification, we are enabling a friction-free experience for Colorado Rockies fans so they can grab a drink and get back to the game faster,” Rockies food service operations and development senior director John Mckay said.

“Hearing from Amazon One customers across the country, we understand that they love the convenience it delivers – shorter wait times, quicker access, being able to link their loyalty memberships, and now an easy way to grab their beer.”

Amazon says the biometric payment system, which has been a feature at its Whole Foods and Go Stores for nearly three years, “removes friction” from everyday activities.

“Customers love the convenience of paying with their palm; however, when it comes to purchasing alcohol, friction is reintroduced as customers must produce a government-issued ID for age verification,” it said this week.

“We’re solving that customer pain point and improving the guest experience with the launch of a new capability called ‘age verification’, which enables adult customers ages 21 and over to purchase alcoholic beverages by simply hovering their palm over an Amazon One device, without digging into their wallets for a physical government-issued ID.”

What is causing concern, however, is that patrons will not only have to sign up to Amazon One, they will have to hand over a plethora of personal information – including photos of their palm, a form of government-recognised identification, payment information, and even a selfie.

“I think this is way too much. This is unethical, you know?” said Associate Professor William Yeoh at Deakin University’s Centre for Cyber Resilience and Trust.

“Because you are forcing your customer to sign up to your loyalty program, but this loyalty is way too much because this is users’ identity.”

He said such extensive information eliminated shoppers’ anonymity.

It might also help to create a powerful force against major supermarkets, funnelling even more money into Amazon’s deep pockets.

Just walk out

At Whole Foods and Go Stores, Amazon One allows customers to buy products without having to use a checkout.

They can also gather loyalty points and enter venues, and some workplaces are using the technology to replace digital entry cards.

Getting started is as easy as inserting a credit card, hovering a palm over the Amazon One device and following prompts to link that card with the customer’s biometric stamp.

Anyone with a mobile phone number and credit card can sign up – even those who don’t have Amazon accounts.

Similar Amazon technology is also being used in Australia.

Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium this year launched ‘Just Walk Out’ – it allows consumers to scan a bank card for entry to onsite retailers and then walk out after collecting their purchases.

Amazon also debuted Just Walk Out in its Go stores. It has since gone on to be used at retailers at some US airports, including Dallas Love Field and Chicago Midway.

Associate Professor Yeoh said palm-reading age verification would eventually become normal in the US – and we’ll see it here too.

“I think this is 100 per cent [coming to Australia], absolutely,” he said.

But he said his biggest concern was that it meant it would no longer be possible to separate our shopping behaviour from our identity, giving companies too much insight into our lives.

“It means our shopping behaviour, our transaction record, everything, will be linked back to ourselves,” he said.

As technology continues to evolve and privacy is redefined, Amazon is going full steam in the other direction.

The company’s palm-scanner technology holds such personal details as the veins and ridges on customers’ hands in photos stored in the cloud – presenting obvious privacy problems.

For Australians left jittery after a way of recent hacks of big companies, that may well be alarming.

But eMarketer senior analyst Jaime Toplin was less concerned.

“If they say it’s safe, it’s safe,” Ms Toplin told US publication Retail Brew as Amazon One arrived on the US east coast in 2021.

“It’s a matter of convincing consumers.”

She said other tech companies had already persuaded users to trust body scanning tech, such as Apple’s Face ID.

Amazon says it uses “multilayered security controls built into the hardware, software, and cloud infrastructure, to ensure that customer data stays encrypted and secure”.

It has also told US consumers it does not store government-issued IDs.

The information is transmitted through a “certified identity verification provider” that verifies ID, cross-references would-be users’ selfies, and confirms their age.

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