Touch and Go

Amazon rolls out palm-based payment system

Last year, Amazon introduced its sleek Amazon One palm-based biometric payment service at several of its stores in Seattle. The online retail giant is now rolling out the payment method at a Whole Foods Market store in the city and will add it to seven others in the area over the coming months.

After registering for the service, shoppers can use Amazon One to pay for items with a contactless scan of their palm. The company reports that thousands of customers have already signed up. To register, customers insert their credit card into a reader device, hover their palm over it and follow the prompts to link that card with their unique palm “signature”, which is built in real time by Amazon’s computer vision technology.

Once enrolled, customers can use the service to pay faster at participating Whole Foods Market stores. Customers can also choose to link their Amazon One ID with their Amazon account, to use their Prime member discounts.

The computer vision technology is unique as it analyses multiple aspects of the palm, and selects the most distinct identifiers to create a palm signature. As no two palms are alike, the technology is able to create a unique identity of each palm. To keep customer data secure, Amazon doesn’t store palm images on its devices, and instead sends the encrypted data to the cloud.

This handy device is raising some concerns, however, owing to Amazon’s track record with biometric technology. The company has sold facial recognition services to law enforcement agencies in the US, its facial recognition technology was the subject of a lawsuit centred on data privacy, and its Ring security camera business continues to work in partnership with police.

That said, the benefits of Amazon One during a pandemic are clear. Payment only requires customers to present their palm over a reader for it to be recognized. There’s no need to take a phone or wallet out of your pocket and you don’t have to touch anything, so it’s about as clean as a payment system can get.

Amazon says it plans to sell its palm-scanning technology to other retailers, and sees advantages in using it at stadiums and in office buildings. The company is confident that its system is “highly secure” and considers palm-scanning technology to be safer than other biometric alternatives like facial recognition.

It’s possible that with this technology, Amazon could overhaul the point-of-sale industry.