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Amazon’s new palm-recognition biometric device lets you pay without touching

In the coronavirus era, innovation comes in waves.

Amazon’s new palm-recognition biometric device lets you pay without touching
[Photo: courtesy of Amazon]

Jeff Bezos wants to read your palm.

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As the coronavirus pandemic pushes more retailers to consider contactless payment options, Amazon is hoping to deliver more of what they want with its new Amazon One. The biometric device, which Amazon announced this morning, utilizes palm-recognition technology to identify customers, match them with their credit card, and allow them to purchase items with the simple wave of their hand.

According to Amazon, the device is being piloted at two Amazon Go stores in Seattle, with more stores planned in the coming months. The hope is that retailers and other companies beyond Amazon will ultimately adopt the technology to use in their own stores, Amazon says. In addition to payments, the device can be used for things like “presenting a loyalty card, entering a location like a stadium, or badging into work.”

That’s probably why Amazon One differs from other Amazon products in one critical way—you don’t need an Amazon account to use it. According to the company, customers can sign up with a credit card and a hand.

[Photo: courtesy of Amazon]

Amazon says it chose palm recognition because it is considered less invasive than “some biometric alternatives,” presumably face recognition, which has received much criticism over its privacy implications and algorithmic biases that can negatively impact people who aren’t white and male. “Ultimately, using a palm as a biometric identifier puts customers in control of when and where they use the service,” Amazon said in a blog post.

The company also says users can request to have their palm data deleted if they choose to cancel the service.

Cashless payments of all kinds have been on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, so it’s no surprise that Amazon is looking for a bigger piece of the action.

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Before it collapsed under the weight of a major fraud scandal this year, German fintech darling Wirecard was seen as one of the most prominent innovators in the space. It released a palm-scanning payment terminal in June 2019.

That sound you hear now? It’s the sound of one hand paying.

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About the author

Christopher Zara is a senior staff news editor for Fast Company and obsessed with media, technology, business, culture, and theater. Before coming to FastCo News, he was a deputy editor at International Business Times, a theater critic for Newsweek, and managing editor of Show Business magazine

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