A class action lawsuit was filed in the state of New York against Amazon, stating that the company failed to notify its customers that they were collecting biometric information about them for their company’s database.
A class action lawsuit was filed in the state of New York against Amazon last Thursday, stating that the company failed to notify its customers that they were collecting biometric information about them for their company’s database. If the allegations against Amazon are proven true, that would directly conflict with a New York City local law passed in 2021. The law requires businesses to post signs if they are tracking customers’ biometric information by utilizing facial scans, fingerprints, palm prints, retinal scans, or any other means that could be used to identify a person.
This particular infraction was occurring at locations that house Amazon’s retail outlet “Go” stores. These locations the company unveiled in 2018. According to CNBC, “(Amazon) opened its first New York location the following year and has ten stores, all in Manhattan.” The lawsuit intimates that when the new law went into effect in New York City, the Amazon Go stores were out of compliance and did not start displaying the appropriate signage until very recently, almost two years after they were required to do so.
These Amazon Go locations allow customers to enter the store, take any product off the shelves, and then simply walk out of the store. This eliminates waits for the customers to conduct the purchasing part of the transaction. Amazon accomplishes this by monitoring the visitor’s actions while in the store and using technology like facial recognition.
After Amazon identifies the customer, they access the cost of the products they selected to the correct Amazon purchasing account. For this concept to work, Amazon needs to collect the individual’s biometric data so that they can charge the accurate account. According to city law, Amazon would be required to inform anyone who enters the store that they would be conducting the collection of this type of data.
Technology watchdog groups have been clamoring for Federal privacy laws to be passed by our national government for a while. Alfredo Perez, represented by the Technology Oversight Project, filed the class action lawsuit. The project director Albert Cahn responded to CNBC by saying, “It means that even a global tech giant can’t ignore local privacy laws.”
New York City is the only major American city with such a law. Surprisingly, Amazon corporation executives didn’t make the connection when it was first passed that they would need to comply with the statute. Even worse yet, if they made the connection and consciously decided not to comply with the law, they felt like their company was above it.
There is no question that the Amazon Go locations were collecting individuals’ biometric information because the concept of those locations would not succeed without it. The only question remains whether they were doing it and not notifying their customers intending to use the data for more nefarious reasons. This lawsuit will spurn a deeper investigation into what the collected biometric data is specifically used for and if there are other ways that Amazon uses this information that the public might not currently be privy to.
This case will determine how and when companies collect and use biometric data. It will also address the rights of consumers and what level of agreement a company must obtain to be allowed to collect that data. The lawsuit will also test the legality of biometric data collection and set precedents for future cases and laws that may occur in other American cities and states.