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Privacy Insider: August 3, 2021

  • by Angelique Carson
  • last updated August 3, 2021
  • 5 min read
Privacy Insider: August 3, 2021

In this week's Privacy Insider, I share the story that Amazon has expanded its biometric palm print plan. Now, at Amazon stores across the U.S., you can pay for your purchases by holding your palm over a scanner. Now, to do this, you must first take a scan of your palm and upload it to your Amazon account. But if you do, Amazon will give you $10 toward an Amazon purchase.

When I read this story, my heart dropped. I immediately thought of my close friend who is disabled, forever unemployed as a result and utterly broke. A couple of weeks ago, he decided to try and make some quick cash by selling his blood plasma. His blood pressure was too high, given the stress of his current reality, and the clinic sent him away untapped. But he was willing to sell his body fluid, his very DNA, to get $100 in return. Hey, he's in a corner.

Now that Amazon is offering $10 for some of the most sensitive data we own, the unique coding of our very hand, who will take that deal?

I'm sadly a privacy geek, so I immediately know the risks of entering into that agreement. What if Amazon sells that data to their partners or vendors? What the U.S. government comes knocking for it? What if hackers steal it?

But the average consumer probably isn't thinking about those risks, especially if they're struggling financially. A $10 coupon might mean they can order a cheap blanket or some baby wipes or a book.

And that means Amazon's strategy could set us up for a dire reality we should fight to avoid: Privacy is only for the privileged.

As I've ranted before when I talk to you about biometric data, it's so important because it's so identifying. No one shares your exact face, eye structure or palm print. They are uniquely yours. And that's a powerful acquisition for any data-hungry company to have. It's also unchangeable. If you give a company your biometric information, and then hackers breach a system and steal it, no one can issue you a new hand.

As someone financially stable, I can look at that deal and call it garbage. But what about folks who can't? What about my friend? He would absolutely upload his palm print for access to a product he needs.

In discussing this with my colleague, he pointed out that putting a money value on customer data gives the public insights as to how much their data is worth. And I agree that that's a valuable consumer tool. But it also exposes the wild inequality in the consumer-to-company relationship. The profits a company could make from precious biometric data are unknowable, mainly because those profits aren't public knowledge. But we know that the company with the most data has the most power (see recent antitrust cases asserting so), and the richer the data, the more valuable it is.

It worries me that these kinds of financial incentives are giving consumers a raw deal. It doesn't seem fair that those already struggling could feel compelled to give over an essential part of themselves in desperation. Or, if we agree that cash-for-data should be an accepted business transaction, the compensation should match the sacrifice. But that's going to take a consumer education campaign on just how much the product they're selling is worth.

How much would you charge for your data? Because it's worth more than $10 coupon, I promise. After all, how great are you?

We're going to chat about this and more at our Twitter Spaces event this week, August 5 at 1 p.m. Pacific, 4 p.m. Eastern. Join us, and listen in! It's audio-only. Like a podcast, but live. Important: You must join from your phone using the Twitter app (desktop doesn't work properly). I’d love to hear your thoughts. 
Enjoy reading, and I'll see you next week! 


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About The Author · Angelique Carson

Angelique Carson is the Director of Content at Osano, a B-corp privacy platform that makes compliance with privacy laws easy for companies of all sizes. She is a professional writer and editor who has worked in journalism and publishing for more than ten years. Previously Angelique was an editor at the International Association of Privacy Professionals and the host of The Privacy Advisor Podcast. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her puppy Miles.