Amazon is currently facing a class action lawsuit accusing the tech giant of failing to notify customers at its New York City Amazon Go store that their biometric information was being collected.
The suit maintains that failing to disclose their collection of biometric identifier information is a violation of New York City law.
Amazon Go stores were launched in 2018 and are known for their “Just Walk Out” technology. Customers enter the store by scanning the app, take the products they want and then leave without having to check out. All of the items that they take from the shelves are added to their virtual cart and charged to their Amazon account, while items they put back on the shelf are removed.
However, to make this possible, the store is engaging in practices such as scanning palms, measuring customers’ bodies and tracking their movements.
The complaint states: “To make this ‘Just Walk Out’ technology possible, the Amazon Go stores constantly collect and use customers’ biometric identifier information, including by scanning the palms of some customers 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.”
In New York City, a law that was put in place in 2021 requires all commercial establishments that collect, store and retain biometric identifier information to inform consumers through clear and conspicuous signs at all entrances that they are doing so in plain language. It applies to any characteristics that are used to identify individuals, such as fingerprints, hand prints, the shape of their body, retina scans and facial recognition.
However, Amazon allegedly never posted any of these signs until a few days after a story was published by the New York Times about their collection of biometric identifier information. This didn’t occur until more than a year after the law went into effect.
The new signs do not comply with the city’s law in terms of their wording, appearance or placement, according to the suit. New York City is the only major U.S. city to require signs notifying customers when they are tracking biometric information such as fingerprints and facial scans.
Amazon denies violating the law
Amazon claims that the information that it collects is not considered biometric data and that only the individuals who have opted to use the Amazon One identification system have their palm print data collected. They maintain that Amazon One customers are given the relevant privacy disclosures when they enroll.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a shopper, Alfredo Rodriguez Perez, who is being represented by a legal advocacy group that focuses on privacy protections, the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project. Rodriguez Perez said he notified Amazon in February that the company was not posting proper signage about the matter, but his letter went unacknowledged.
He is seeking a declaration from Amazon admitting they violated the law and an order compelling compliance, along with damages for himself and other customers who have joined the class.
Amazon has long been the subject of privacy concerns on account of the vast amount of data they collect about people. Their data collection efforts got a significant boost with the introduction of their Echo speakers and Ring cameras, which can now be found in the homes of millions of Americans. And with Amazon also contracted to provide cloud services to federal surveillance agencies, it is not a stretch to imagine that people’s personal information could be accessed by federal agencies like the NSA and CIA.
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