Amazon Hit With Lawsuit For Not Disclosing Facial Recognition Use

Amazon's innovative "Just Walk Out" retail concept is a convenient compromise for shoppers who need quick access to goods without the long lines and employees to manage the checkout experience. Amazon isn't the first to offer a self-checkout experience, with Walmart being the most prominent retailer to implement systems nationally.

These systems rely on an honor code partly enforced by security cameras and bystanding loss prevention officers. These techniques exist and are visible to shoppers. But Amazon Go takes it further, eliminating the need to visit a checkout kiosk altogether. Just pick up your items and walk out of the store.

It's no secret that Amazon Go stores peppered throughout New York City are using AI to make this possible — facial recognition technology, to be specific. And though the method is legally sound and has become morally acceptable by today's societal norms, Amazon's total implementation of the service may land it in hot water. A lawsuit alleges it violates consumer rights privacy laws.

A class action complaint filed to a New York district court spotted by CNBC suggests Amazon violates a law requiring it to disclose biometric identification technology before a patron enters its store. Such requirements were nonexistent when the stores opened in 2019, but the so-called "Biometric Identifier Information Law" wasn't installed until January 2022. Still, Amazon reportedly fails compliance at all Amazon Go stores to date.

The tech isn't illegal, but failure to disclose is

According to the lawsuit filing, Amazon only recently started to post signs "on or around March 14," likely in response to the legal troubles. But the complaint suggests that isn't enough.

The plaintiff writes: "The new sign fails to disclose that Amazon converts and retains biometric identifier information. Even worse, the sign informs customers that Amazon will not collect biometric identifier information on them unless they use the Amazon One palm scanner to enter the Amazon Go store, even though Amazon Go stores do collect biometric identifier information on every single customer, including information on the size and shape of every customer's body."

Furthermore, it accuses Amazon of trying to hide these signs in plain sight while the law requires signage to be prominently visible upon entering the store, no matter which door you enter. As of writing, the law is only required in New York City, but considering that's where Amazon exclusively began operating these stores, it should eventually be compelled to fall in line.

If it succeeds, the class action lawsuit seeks to force compliance and appropriately compensate any patron who has entered an Amazon Go store. It suggests damages of at least $500 for each member of the lawsuit if Amazon loses a judgment, with a large chunk likely to be pocketed by the firm handling the case.