Amazon Go – Convenience in the name of privacy ?

Amazon has launched a shop where you can just walk in, grab anything you like off the shelves and leave. No cash registers, no lines, no hassle. You only need an app which updates your product in your virtual cart and then charges you automatically once you leave the shop. The pilot shop is open to the company’s employees in Seattle but it will open to the public in early 2017, although no date has been given in terms of UK stores.

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The concept provides the customers with the new shopping experience, quite revolutionary if you ask me, similar to the idea of driverless cars, and once so opposed contactless payments. While the idea behind the Amazon Go is a dream come true for many who do not want to waste their time at the checkouts, it will come at a cost to personal privacy.

Big data seems to be in fashion now, and data is everything that any ‘major player’ company wants. Saying that the company is not interested in data and analytics is like saying I am not interested in our customers.

Amazon Go, can and will use the data for ‘analytical purposes’, meaning it will use it for more targeted advertising. It will monitor your location, what you purchase, at what time of the day, how long you held it in your hand, and whether you were undecided about the product.

According to the patent filed by Amazon Technologies, Inc., the ‘computer vision’ is an advanced form of facial recognition, which can recognise race and gender. It will store the data as the patent suggests:

“For example, if the inventory management system cannot determine if the picked item is a bottle of ketchup or a bottle of mustard, the inventory management system may consider past purchase history and/or what items the user has already picked from other inventory locations. For example, if the user historically has only picked/purchased ketchup, that information may be used to confirm that the user has likely picked ketchup from the inventory location.”

Therefore, it will definitely store the data to create a database about our preferences.

Moreover, besides these fancy image captures, facial recognition, weight and pressure sensors that the patent suggests, it also has the ability to eavesdrop as:

“microphones may record sounds made by the user and the computing resource(s) may process those sounds to determine a location of the user. For example, based on knowledge of the locations of the microphones within the materials handling facility, a time offset between audio signals received by each microphone can be computed to determine a location of the user.”

And as it is with Big Data, will the Amazon keep it to themselves? Will they only use it for the sole purpose of allowing you to shop hassle-free? Will it let third parties use the data to target you as a customer? Will it let the Government to have access to the data? Possibilities are endless.

Yet, since ‘data is the new oil’, Amazon will sell the information to others for a profit and you will get nothing in return. Unfortunately, Amazon is guilty of not having a good reputation for protecting user data.

Another worrying aspect besides the privacy is the diminishing demand for human labour. It is not a surprise that the Artificial Intelligence is becoming more popular and is slowly but surely replacing us. I do not think we should be particularly worried about the AI (or I hope to!), as the technology has always created new jobs around itself. But it remains to be seen.

The convenience of Amazon Go is definitely there, especially that in times like now – time is priceless, however, it should not come at the expense of privacy.

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