Amazon sued over biometric information collection, tracking in New York Amazon Go stores

·4 min read
A sign is seen outside of an Amazon Go store at the Inc. headquarters on May 20, 2021 in Seattle, Washington.
A sign is seen outside of an Amazon Go store at the Inc. headquarters on May 20, 2021 in Seattle, Washington.

Amazon is facing a class-action lawsuit that accuses the company of failing to properly inform New York City customers of biometric information collection in Amazon Go stores – including palm scans and measuring individuals' bodies to track shoppers.

The suit, which was filed on behalf of Alfredo Rodriguez Perez in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Thursday, says that Amazon violated New York City law by collecting biometric identifier information without properly disclosing the practices to customers in stores.

Amazon confirmed the company uses biometric data for its Amazon One "palm-based identity" payment system in a statement sent to USA TODAY on Friday. Amazon does not use facial recognition technology in any of its stores, the company said in the statement.

The company did not comment on other allegations involving biometric information collection.

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How does Amazon Go work?

Amazon launched Amazon Go in 2018. There are currently 29 locations across the country, including 10 Amazon Go stores in New York, according to Amazon's website.

Amazon Go is advertised with "Just Walk Out" technology, available for users with the Amazon Shopping app – or, at some locations, Amazon One or a scannable credit card linked to an Amazon account.

Customers can enter an Amazon Go store by scanning the app, taking whatever products they want and leaving without physically checking out. Items taken from a store's shelf will be added to your "virtual cart" and items put back on the shelf will be removed, Amazon's FAQ's say. Similar "Just Walk Out" technology is advertised at Amazon Fresh stores.

"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," Thursday's class-action complaint reads.

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Only customers who enroll in Amazon One – the company's "contactless, palm-based identity and payment service" that can be used to enter select Amazon Go stores – will "have their palm-biometric data securely collected," Amazon said in its statement.

"These individuals are provided the appropriate privacy disclosures during the enrollment process," Amazon said.

Amazon did not comment on Amazon Go allegedly collecting shoppers' body shape and size.

The lawsuit charges that Amazon Go stores "collect biometric identifier information on every single customer, including information on the size and shape of every customer’s body."

'Just Walk Out' tech violates NYC law, lawsuit says

For consumers in New York City, the suit points to "The Biometric Identifier Information Law" – a law enacted in 2021 that requires retailers and other commercial establishments that collect, retain or store biometric identifier information to disclose their practices to consumers "by placing a clear and conspicuous sign" near all entrances "in plain, simple language."

The New York City law applies to characteristics used to identify a person – including facial recognition, retina scans, fingerprints and handprints, the shape of an individual's body and more.

"From January 15, 2022, when the law’s implementing rule went into effect, through March 13, 2023, Amazon failed to post any signs at the entrances of any Amazon Go stores in New York City that would notify customers that those stores collect, retain, convert, and store consumers’ biometric identifier information," the lawsuit says.

According to the suit, Rodriguez Perez notified Amazon on Feb. 7 that he had visited an Amazon Go store and that the company required to post proper signage about its collection of customers' biometric identifier information. Amazon "did not respond to Mr. Rodriguez Perez’s letter at all," the suit alleges.

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It wasn't until on or around March 14, days after The New York Times published a story about biometric identifier information collection in New York City stores including Amazon Go, that "Amazon first posted a sign outside its Amazon Go stores," the suit said.

Still, the complaint alleges, the new signs fail to comply with the New York City law – in placement, appearance and wording – and neglect to inform customers that Amazon will collect biometric identifier information beyond Amazon One.

"Instead of leaving customers in the dark about its collection of biometric information, as Amazon did for 14 months, Amazon is now affirmatively offering false assurances that it will not collect any biometric information from most customers," the suit writes.

Rodriguez Perez seeks a declaration that Amazon has violated the law, an order requiring Amazon's compliance and damages for himself and the other Amazon One customers in the class, among other relief, the suit says.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Amazon sued over biometric data, tracking in NYC Amazon Go stores