Are Amazon Go Stores Putting Consumer Data At Risk?

We may be headed for one of the most invasive, privacy-eroding shifts in consumer habits ever known.
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Amazon Go_Getty_Stephen Brashear

Amazon has fundamentally changed both how consumers shop and the physical retail landscape across the U.S. While many retail stalwarts are closing stores or downsizing, Amazon instead is opening its own brick-and-mortar locations.

Amazon has found its niche. It has successfully seduced the U.S. population. And, now that it has people hooked on mass convenience, it hopes it can encourage them to keep spending.

Amazon Go stores are just the latest phase in the shopping titan’s evolution. With 3,000 stores expected to be built by 2021, it appears that the American shopper is headed for one of the most invasive, privacy-eroding shifts in consumer habits ever known.

Data Hungry

It is no secret that Amazon likes data. The firm has used its online position to intricately analyze its subscriber’s shopping habits. The result has been unprecedented capabilities to spot shopping trends, understand stock demand, and target products to both geographic locations and individuals in vastly more effective ways. The result? Profit, lots of profit.

See also: What Shoppers Really Think Of Amazon Go

Amazon Go stores plan to prey on Prime’s existing subscriber base — of which there are over 100 million worldwide. Creating a futuristic range of shops, where consumers need never check out. Amazon hopes this will entice people away from their regular convenience store.

This shopping revolution, will also involve increasingly invasive levels of corporate surveillance. Entering an Amazon Go store will be the physical manifestation of enabling website cookies. From the moment shoppers tap the personalized QR code on the app, everything will be tracked.

I’m Watching You

Amazon’s in-store technology is expected to use a mix of both cameras and sensors. Although there is no explicit mention of facial recognition yet, it seems likely that Amazon plans to use this kind of technology. One scenario could involve screens positioned around the shop that scan the eyes of customers to determine age and gender, and to run tailored ads for them.

In addition to its ability to watch consumers, Amazon Go stores will be able to listen. Microphones positioned around the store will allow Amazon to process conversations. Consumers who shop at Amazon Go and use Alexa may be told if something on their list is unavailable, offering a completely customized shopping experience.

Why All The Fuss?

Consumers might think that buying things in a store without having to check out sounds awesome (and it does), which is why we’re assuming the concept will be massively successful. The problem is that Amazon will be able to create extraordinarily accurate buyer profiles, adding our physical habits to previously known digital ones.

For example, the ability to listen to kids pestering parents to buy specific products could allow Amazon to tug on those parents’ heartstrings later on by serving them targeted online adverts. This is a subtle, yet powerful form of engagement.

See also: Amazon Opens 4-Star Store

Leveraging these enhanced data sets, Amazon will be able to influence shoppers to spend more. Think, for instance, of those times when you pick up an item and put it back on the shelf; thinking to yourself, “No, I don’t need cake, I’m trying to diet and save for my holiday.”

With sensors that know when things get picked up, Amazon will know not only about those things you do buy, but also those things you wish you could afford — or are trying to cut down on.

Potential For Hacking

Amazon already has masses of consumer data thanks to Prime, Alexa, Kindle, Fire TV, Twitch, and other platforms hosted via Amazon Web Services (AWS). The addition of Amazon Go makes it an even more tempting target for hackers.

Amazon is constantly adding more acquisitions to its portfolio. It recently snapped up PillPack, a small online pharmacy, that will soon have Amazon distributing prescription medications to patients across the U.S. and adding sensitive medical information to its repository of data.

For now, the firm has not shown any signs of plans to sell user data; however, it places an immensely high value on its proprietary data and could decide to monetize it further in the future.

In the meantime, the risk of cybercrime is only going to grow, and consumers are going to have more detailed datasets sitting around on Amazon servers. No matter which way you look at it, Amazon Go is going to add further security and privacy woes to an already-troubled market.

Peter Zaborszky is founder of BestVPN.com, price-comparison and review site. 

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