Back in 2021, a law took effect in New York City that requires businesses to post conspicuous signs if they’re collecting customers’ biometric information, such as their facial scans and fingerprints. Now, Amazon is facing a proposed class-action lawsuit that accuses the company of failing to inform customers at its Go cashierless stores that it was collecting their biometrics.
In the lawsuit (PDF), filed by Alfredo Alberto Rodriguez Perez, the plaintiff argues that Go stores constantly use customers’ biometrics “by scanning [their palms] to identify them and by applying computer vision, deep learning algorithms, and sensor fusion that measure the shape and size of each customer’s body to identify customers, track where they move in the stores, and determine what they have purchased.” It said the company only put up signs about its biometric tracking activities over a year after the law went into effect.
Amazon’s Go stores give shoppers the option to take whatever product they have off shelves and walk out without the need to check out. To be able to enter these stores, customers will need to scan a code from the Amazon app with a connected credit card. However, some locations offer Amazon One, the e-commerce giant’s palm-based identity and payment service, as an entry option. The plaintiff’s complaint said the sign informs customers that Amazon will not be collecting their biometrics unless they choose to sign up for Amazon One. However, “Amazon Go stores do collect biometric identifier information on every single customer, including information on the size and shape of every customers body,” the complaint argues.
In a statement sent to NBC News, an Amazon spokesperson defended the company’s practices and technologies. They explained that Amazon does not use facial recognition, and any system it uses to identify shoppers inside its Go stores don’t constitute biometric tech. “Only shoppers who choose to enroll in Amazon One and choose to be identified by hovering their palm over the Amazon One device have their palm-biometric data securely collected,” they insisted, “and these individuals are provided the appropriate privacy disclosures during the enrollment process.”
The lawsuit’s outcome could then depend on whether the court sees someone’s body shape and size as biometric information. In the complaint, the plaintiff quotes NYC Admin Code 22-1201’s definition of a biometric identifier in context of the law as “a physiological or biological characteristic that is used by or on behalf of a commercial establishment, singly or in combination, to identify, or assist in identifying, an individual, including, but not limited to: (i) a retina or iris scan, (ii) a fingerprint or voiceprint, (iii) a scan of hand or face geometry, or any other identifying characteristic.”