Amazon's Checkout-Free Stores Provide Testing Ground For Surveillance Technology

News Image By PNW Staff June 15, 2017
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Amazon Go appears to be ready to take the next step after some delays have seen it's first cashless retail store opening in Seattle fall behind schedule.  

Now a recent job listing seeking a senior real estate manager has raised speculation that not only will the first store be opening this year but the online giant plans to roll out its checkout-free convenience store concept on a larger scale.

For those who havent heard, the next iteration of the cashless society has crested the horizon. Amazon has come up with a new idea that just might change the way retail businesses operate. 

Amazon Go is set to be a retail experience for customers with no checkout lines. You read that right. Using a complex combination of lasers, sensors, cameras, scanners, apps, and tags to ensure that the right person is charged for the items purchased, but there will be no checkout lines or cash registers.

Shoppers click on the new Amazon Go app as they enter the store, and hold their smartphone to a scanner similar to an airport security line.  

Every time the customer picks up an item, it is automatically added to their virtual cart. (If the shopper puts the item back on the shelf, the item is automatically removed from the cart.) Once the customer leaves the store, their purchase is billed to their account.

Amazon claims their shopping experience employs the same types of technologies that enable driverless cars, such as sensor fusion, deep learning, and computer vision. 

For some, the idea of shopping without lines to checkout is a golden one, but others are sounding the alarm with concerns over privacy and rightfully so. 

One of the key elements of their security, CCTV cameras equipped with facial recognition software, may even be illegal - at least in the UK. At the very least, it is a stark breach of privacy.

It isn't just criminals that are opposed to this sort of surveillance by retailers. Some people simply prefer their privacy. So, whats the big deal with Amazon gathering and collecting all this information about consumers?

For many privacy advocates it isn't so much that they are gathering the data and information, but how that information will be stored and used. Data mining is big business and that information is often sold or used to generate highly targeted advertisements and promotions.

Not only can they use this technology to gather data on the purchases you make, but also on the items you pick up and then return, allowing them to target their marketing efforts accordingly. 

Some believe this to be entirely too invasive and are beginning to invite conversations about privacy that may be too late, at this point, to make a difference.

Millennials have grown up in the information age where they live out loud on social media and have little regard for privacy. This makes them ripe targets for the kind of store Amazon is creating.

While some would advise that privacy advocates simply not shop at the new Amazon Go in order to maintain their privacy, the alarming trend is that bells can't be un-rung. 

Once we take that step forward in retail technology, other stores will seek to do the same - effectively ending privacy in all retail environments for the sake of convenience.

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