Suit claims Amazon broke New York privacy laws with Amazon Go tech

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Amazon is being sued over how it uses biometric recognition in New York Amazon Go stores.

Amazon is being sued for allegedly using biometric recognition technology without informing customers at its Amazon Go convenience stores located in New York.

In a class action lawsuit filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York, plaintiff Alfredo Rodriguez Perez alleges that Amazon violated a New York City law requiring businesses inform customers if they use technology that tracks any biometric information, such as measuring size and body shape or fingerprint scanning.

The Biometric Identifier Information Law, passed in 2021 and put into effect in 2022, is the only of its kind in any city in the U.S. According to the suit, Amazon failed to notify customers shopping in its 10 Amazon Go stores located in New York (which include a joint Amazon Go/Starbucks pickup location) that it collects some of their biometric information while they shop until March 13, 2023.

[Read more: Amazon’s cashier-less convenience store is finally a ‘Go’]

“Since 2019, when Amazon first opened several Amazon Go stores in New York City, Amazon has collected, converted, retained, and stored the biometric identifier information of all customers who enter its Amazon Go stores,” states the lawsuit. “Unlike traditional grocery or convenience stores where cashiers scan what customers are purchasing and charge them for the goods, an Amazon Go customer typically leaves the store with the goods they want and is automatically charged for such goods without waiting in line, scanning, or interacting with a cashier.

“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 an email to Chain Store Age, an Amazon spokesperson offered the company's response to the claims made in the suit.

“We do not use facial recognition technology in any of our stores, and claims made otherwise are false," the spokesperson said. "Amazon One, our contactless, palm-based identity and payment service, is one of the entry options offered at select Amazon Go stores along with credit card and the Amazon app. 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, and these individuals are provided the appropriate privacy disclosures during the enrollment process. The customer is always in control of when they choose to be identified using their palm.”

In the suit, Perez seeks a declaration that Amazon has violated the Biometric Identifier Information Law, an order requiring Amazon to comply with the law, and unspecified damages for himself and other Amazon customers who shopped Amazon Go stores in New York during the period Amazon allegedly violated the law.

The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, a non-profit that says it is dedicated to ending discriminatory and abusive surveillance in New York, is representing Perez in the suit.

“(E)ven a global tech giant can’t ignore local privacy laws,” Albert Cahn, project director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, said in a statement to CNBC. “As we wait for long overdue federal privacy laws, it shows there is so much local governments can do to protect their residents.”

Amazon has not yet issued a public comment on the suit.

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