Panera announced a new partnership with Amazon to integrate the tech company’s Amazon One biometric palm scanning services into the fast casual restaurant’s loyalty rewards program. But less than a week ago, the bakery-cafe chain’s newest collaborator was hit with potential litigation regarding alleged digital privacy violations in its NYC brick-and-mortar Amazon Go stores.
After linking one’s MyPanera account to Amazon’s contactless, palm-scanning Amazon One software, customers reportedly will be able to pay for meals, receive menu recommendations based on preferences, and earn rewards points without any physical card requirements. While currently limited to a handful of locations in St. Louis, the popular bakery-cafe chain intends to expand the feature to additional US locations in the coming months.
Palm scanners were first utilized within Amazon Go stores following a public launch in 2018. The workerless convenience shops faced immediate scrutiny from critics for its perceived overreliance on invasive data tech, as well as its impact on human labor forces. In 2021, New York City passed a law requiring businesses that collect, store, or share “biometric identifiers” to alert customers to this fact via signs posted near store entrances. Earlier this month, however, the New York Times revealed many stores still failed to abide by this obligation, allegedly including at least one Amazon Go location. The lawsuit alleges that Amazon only began posting signage following the NYT’s report.
Filed last Thursday in US District Court for the Southern District of New York, the lawsuit claims Amazon Go amasses customers’ biometric data via Amazon One palm scanners alongside computer vision, deep learning algorithms, and sensor fusion to “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.”
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“We all have our own favorite bread recipes, but none of them use biometric data as an ingredient,” Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP) and an attorney for the proposed lawsuit said via email when asked about the timing of Amazon’s Panera partnership. Cahn believes it’s “absurd” Panera would utilize the palm scanners so soon after Amazon may fight litigation over the tech’s uses.
“I don’t understand why the company isn’t taking customer’s privacy and safety more seriously,” he added.
In an email to PopSci, a Panera spokesperson stressed that the company’s partnership is with Amazon One specifically, and not Amazon Go. “Amazon One is the entirely opt-in, palm-scanning device,” they clarified. They declined to comment on the lawsuit regarding Amazon’s data policies within its Amazon Go locations.