These days, there aren’t too many occasions where you’d be required to carry cash. Debit cards and ATM machines have long replaced coins and cash in wallets. Now, Amazon is looking to revolutionize commerce yet again. The world’s largest online retailer recently filed a patent for a “non-contact biometric identification system” — a hand scanner that can scan a person’s palm without any contact. When implemented, this system would eliminate the need for credit and debit cards for purchases.
While the project is still in its infancy, the company has begun working with Visa on testing out hand-scanning terminals, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Amazon has also discussed the project with Mastercard, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Synchrony Financial.
Amazon has already taken steps to expand its Amazon Go stores, which allow shoppers to make purchases without cashiers or checkout lines, and is looking ahead to evolve its voice payment service, Amazon Pay. If the project is passed, palm-scanning terminals would be placed in coffee shops, fast-food restaurants and areas where retailers have a lot of repeat business with customers.
The business of biometric scanning isn’t new. Once relegated to secure government facilities, it wasn’t long before retinal scanning and facial recognition moved into the public domain with airports and smartphones adopting the technology. Most systems require either a fingerprint or retinal scan to identify the cardholder and complete purchases.
In theory, your biometric data should be secure. According to Easy Clocking, the nature of biometrics would make it impossible to access one’s personal information. “Biometrics are automated methods of recognizing a person based on a physiological or behavioral characteristic, (including) face, fingerprints, hand geometry, handwriting, iris, retinal, vein, and voice,” the site claims. As such, one’s physical data should be separate from their personal information.
However, with hand-scanning, Amazon customers would first use the terminals to link their debit or credit card information to their hands. Then, they would scan their hand at the terminal on future visits when making purchases, which now links biometric data to sensitive content, such as bank information and other personal data.
Per WSJ, data collected from the terminals would be stored on Amazon’s cloud and used to study consumers’ Amazon.com spending habits. Understandably, there are questions about how Amazon plans to mitigate data security.
Critics are concerned not only with how a consumer’s spending habits will be used, but what would happen if this data was breached. Furthermore, it is not yet clear if customers can link multiple cards to their hands. Amazon has not yet provided any information on how it plans to address these concerns.
With the race to change the landscape of modern finance, we are already on the cusp of replacing physical currency with a digital identity, with retail titans such as Amazon poised to offer risk-free transactions with only a wave and a smile.