How Amazon One’s Hands-Free Checkout Could Make Shopping Safer

Lena Borrelli
Updated Mar 2, 2021
2 min read

In the time of COVID, people worry more than ever about the power - and life-threatening danger - of touch. Coronavirus has changed how we live our lives in more ways than one, and Amazon's latest hands-free technology is just another way to keep yourself safe.

Even before COVID, people have been fearful of touch. Millions of germs and bacteria are passed through public areas each day, and credit card terminals have been one of the biggest places to swap germs. Touchless payments not only affect your health but take up your time, too. The long lines and painfully slow checkout processes that once marred the shopping experience could now become a thing of the past, revolutionized by instant contactless payments. 

The health benefits are obvious, but what other benefits does Amazon’s touchless payment system bring, and will it jeopardize your personal security? 

What is Amazon One?

Today, Amazon is a retail giant, holding court with over 40% of U.S. e-commerce sales. That’s why it’s not so surprising that it would be the one to introduce biometric technology to your shopping experience. 

Amazon One is Amazon’s latest technology, offering a touch-free way to pay. 

The company explains, “Amazon One's customized hardware captures the minute characteristics of your palm – both surface-area details like lines and ridges as well as subcutaneous features such as vein patterns – to create your palm signature.”

Just like Apple utilizes facial recognition technology, Amazon is using its imaging algorithms for your hands instead. “Even identical twins have many differences in their palm structure,” says an Amazon spokesperson.

Akram Tariq Khan is a former Program Manager at Amazon and currently serves as the Chief Technology Officer for YourLibaas. He explains, “The palm area is much larger compared to a fingerprint, and hence capturing more distinctive features is made possible.”

Even the setup is easy.

When you use Amazon One for the first time, you will need to scan your palm at the terminal. The machine will also prompt you to add your credit card information so it can store it to your record for future payments. 

After that, all you will need to do is wave what Amazon calls “a jazz hand” over the Amazon One terminal to make automatic payments.

Once your palm has been captured by the software, you can enjoy contactless payments at participating retailers - and Amazon expects that list to grow quickly.

Where can I use Amazon One?

At launch, Amazon One comes with significant limitations. 

There are only two cashierless convenience stores, and they are both located in Seattle. However, the company has revealed plans to bring Amazon One to its other Amazon Go locations in areas such as New York, Seattle, San Francisco and Chicago.

It is also actively marketing its services to third-party retailers who can bring the software to their businesses for greater accessibility.

Many speculate that Whole Foods will also bring the technology to its stores. The New York Post, who also broke word of Amazon’s contactless payments last year, predicts that Amazon will leverage its ownership over Whole Foods to expand the new system. With Amazon pursuing additional retailers for its software, it seems very likely that Whole Foods would be one of the first stops. 

Benefits of Amazon One

Research shows that consumers are increasingly leaning toward touchless payments, even before COVID changed the way we lead our daily lives.

  • According to research from the National Retail Federation and Forrester Research, 67% of U.S. retailers use contactless payments as an accepted form of payment.
  • A study by Mercator Advisory Group reports that touchless payments have increased by almost 10% during coronavirus.

There is the obvious health benefit, but there are other ways that touchless payments can transform the retail shopping experience. In fact, the New York Post reports that instead of the usual three to four seconds it takes to process a touch transaction, Amazon’s technology takes less than 300 milliseconds. 

The benefits of Amazon One extend to both consumer and retailer alike.

Benefits for Customers

  • Safer
  • Faster
  • More efficient

 Benefits for Retailers

  • Less room for error
  • Shorter lines
  • More customers helped

Pieter VanIperen is a veteran software architect and security expert who is also the Founder and Managing Partner of PWV Consultants. He sees enormous benefit in Amazon One’s new technology. “It speeds up shopping by omitting the need to get your form of payment out of your pocket,” he explains. “This will be especially useful for those with large purchases, those who are disabled and those who are shopping with small children.”

After all, he says, “It’s an added convenience in a world where the easy way is the preferred method of getting things done and speed matters.”

Data Safety and Security of Amazon One

With one’s biometric data on the line, there is plenty of cause for concern over the safety and security of your most private data.  

An Amazon spokesperson told the New York Post that Amazon has “no plans to use transaction information from third-party locations for Amazon advertising or other purposes.”

However, it will still collect data on where you shop, given your purchase history. You also have the option to choose whether you link your Amazon One account to your Prime account, or you can keep them separate.

Biometric data can carry more risk than other forms of data because it could fall victim to the same kind of mass data breach that we occasionally see in the headlines. If hackers are able to break through Amazon’s safeguards, you could find your data falling into the wrong hands.

“If someone manages to get past Amazon’s security protocols to access your credit card information,” VanIperen says, “it is possible for them to take that card information and do damage by hacking that account and getting even more of your personal information. The same holds true with third-party vendors, if and when they employ this technology.”

Amazon’s spokesperson insists that precautions have been put into place. Encryption is used for images and stored in a “highly secure area we custom-built in the cloud for analysis and storage.”

Khan explains in more detail. “The biometric data is being saved on secure Amazon cloud servers and not on the device locally, adding a layer of security. However, Amazon hasn't revealed more about the security aspects and it's a black box.” 

That is important because how and where your data is stored will determine whether it is at risk. 

Khan explains that “though the data can be stolen during a breach, encryption would render it useless. If enterprise-grade encryption is being used (which is usually the norm with Amazon's services), stealing someone's identity even after accessing the data is extremely difficult.”

He also notes that users can always log a deletion request, either in-store or online.

“Amazon is a highly secure company because it has to be,” VanIperen adds. “They offer a multitude of services ranging from retail to cloud services used by large corporations. If Amazon suffers a data breach, there's probably something incredibly sophisticated and complex to blame. The company has layers upon layers of security.”

Future plans

Now that Amazon has the biometric technology of Amazon One, it sees unlimited potential for future use. 

“We believe Amazon One has broad applicability beyond our retail stores, so we also plan to offer the service to third parties like retailers, stadiums, and office buildings so that more people can benefit from this ease and convenience in more places,” says Dilip Kumar, Vice President of Physical Retail and Technology for Amazon.

VanIperen advises users to still exercise caution in future use. “We are likely to see this technology used anywhere you have to purchase a ticket. We will see this technology used in businesses in lieu of coded badges.”

“When this happens, you must be vigilant about where you use your palm. Your information is only as secure as the company which is safeguarding it, so it is important to do your due diligence before allowing your palm to be scanned,” he warns. “Nothing is 100% hack-proof.”

The Bottom Line

With its touchless payments, Amazon makes shopping during COVID a dream come true. “Given how customers prefer touchless transactions post-pandemic, this is certainly going to restore consumer confidence,” predicts Khan.

As long as Amazon adequately protects its user data, this could become the new normal and impact not just the retail experience but also how we identify ourselves in the future.

Photo by isayildiz / GettyImages

Contributing Writer

Lena Borrelli

Lena Borrelli is a freelance journalist who has covered home security, safety, and other topics for, TIME, Microsoft News, ADT, and Home Advisor.

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