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4 things you need to know about Amazon’s pay-by-palm service

(TECH NEWS) Amazon One uses biometric palm reading, which sounds like science fiction. But here’s a few things you may want to know before you try it out.

Amazon One ID palm scanner with blue and white background, hand held over it.

We’d all like to wave a hand and make money magically appear. Amazon wants you to wave your hand to make money disappear into its coffers with its new Amazon One payment service.

That’s based on biometrics, not magic.

Amazon One’s FAQ says its purpose is to simplify everyday interactions by letting you use your palm to pay, enter, or identify yourself. It’s designed to be simple, fast, and best of all, contactless. Once you sign up, you don’t have to touch anything again.

Whether you think that sounds cool or creepy, you should know a few things about it and how it works.

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1. A scanner will create an image of your palm that is then associated with your credit card.

To sign up, you place your palm over an Amazon One imaging device. That will create a “palm signature” based on your unique identifying features, such as the ridges, lines, and veins in your hand. Your palm’s image is linked with a credit card you put into the device. If you want, you can scan your other palm, too.

To use your palm, you hover it over the Amazon One device for a second or two. Requiring that “intentional act,” Amazon says, lets you maintain control over when it’s used.

2. You can try your hand at using Amazon One to pay at two Amazon Go stores in Seattle.

Before you shop at an Amazon Go convenience store, you place your phone – or now your palm – over the device at the entrance to initiate your purchase. Cameras and sensors throughout the store note what you put in your shopping bag. Amazon already knows what you’ve bought, so there’s no waiting in a checkout line. Your purchases get charged to your credit card, letting you fulfill the stores’ slogan, “Just walk out.”

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Using a phone requires the Amazon or Amazon Go app. You don’t need an app for Amazon One unless you want to keep a running list of what you’ve bought.

3. Amazon envisions third parties using it as an additional payment method or for identification.

That would mean you could pay with your palm at retail stores, maybe shaving off the couple of seconds it takes to take out and put back your credit card. Bonus: Neither you nor the cashier has to touch your card. Other bonus: You can’t lose it or leave it in the car.

People might also use it for badging in at work or going through security at a stadium, Amazon says.

TheVerge.com says that’s potentially a problem: “Amazon One isn’t a payment technology. It’s an identity technology, and one that could give Amazon more reach into your life than ever before.”

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4. Privacy and security could be real issues with a company that some people think already knows too much about us.

Amazon says the palm images are encrypted and securely stored in the cloud, not on the device. Also, because using your palm requires an intentional action, only you decide where and when to use Amazon One. So many questions: Do we want Amazon to know more about us? Could the technology be used for some kind of surveillance? Could hackers access the image of your palm – and what could they do with it?

There’s something a little disconcerting about using our bodies as tech devices or, in Amazon One’s case, as something that is essentially a password. This feels somewhat less creepy than inserting microchips under your skin, which became all the rage in Sweden in 2018. The chips are designed to do things like unlock doors, store information like emergency contacts or carry e-tickets for events or train tickets. But under our skin?

With Amazon One, we’re just starting to read the future of our palms. Stay tuned.

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Lisa Wyatt Roe is an Austin writer and editor whose work has been featured on CNN.com/Travel, in Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine and in the book “Seduced by Sound: Austin; 100 Musicians on Why They Make Music.” Travel and live music feed her soul. Volunteering with refugees feeds her sense of purpose. And making friends laugh feeds her deep (yet possibly sad) need to get all the laughing emojis on Facebook.

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