Monday, October 18, 2021
Oct. 18, 2021

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Senators probe Amazon’s biometric payment system, Amazon One, over privacy concerns


In a letter to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, three bipartisan U.S. senators expressed privacy and competition concerns over the company’s biometric payment system, Amazon One, and asked the company to provide information about how it keeps users’ data safe.

Amazon One, unveiled last year in Seattle, links customers’ unique palm prints to a credit card, allowing consumers to pay for purchases at participating stores by swiping their hands over the payment terminal. Amazon piloted the technology at two cashierless Amazon Go stores in South Lake Union last fall; it has since expanded to 59 Whole Foods stores and other Amazon-branded locations nationwide, including 20 locations in the Seattle area.

The letter, from Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Bill Cassidy, R-La.; and Jon Ossoff, D-Ga. followed news reports last week that Amazon has started offering a $10 shopping credit for people who sign up to use the service, sparking renewed concern from civil liberties advocates about the technology’s ramifications on privacy.

“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 senators wrote in the letter sent Thursday, noting that previous leaks and hacks have exposed Amazon users’ data.

“We are also concerned that Amazon may use data from Amazon One … to further cement its competitive power and suppress competition across various markets,” the senators added. Amazon has said it plans to market the Amazon One technology to third-party businesses, which could enable it to collect information on customers’ shopping habits outside of Amazon’s retail ecosystem.

The senators asked Amazon to share information by Aug. 26 about how many users have signed up for Amazon One, the company’s data collection and security practices and the sale of the technology to third parties. They also inquired whether palmprint data from Amazon One is ever paired with other biometric data from Amazon’s suite of other surveillance devices, including its Echo smart speakers and Ring cameras.

Amazon declined to comment on the senators’ letter. The company has previously said that it “designed Amazon One to be highly secure,” with “multiple security controls.”