Retailers Spy with Their Robotic Eyes: Amazon’s Innovative Use of Technology - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Retailers Spy with Their Robotic Eyes: Amazon’s Innovative Use of Technology

Retailers Spy with Their Robotic Eyes: Amazon’s Innovative Use of Technology

In all likelihood, you have given over more information to companies than any one human you trust. As companies continuously dabble with technology, they are finding ways to make the consumer experience smoother and more convenient. However, these methods may be compromising our privacy, begging the question – is it worth it?

Many of the apps that we use on our phones expressly notify users that the app needs to track user location along with other data, and require users to agree in order to use the app.1 Many consumers are quick to take that risk in exchange for the services the app provider gives without giving a second thought to any tracking by the app provider.2 The efficiency and convenience of using apps has certainly been pushing the privacy line further away, making it easier for companies to implement innovative ways to include technology at the core of their businesses.

Retailers have added a new component to tracking that is a bit more conspicuous. Retail giant Amazon has eliminated cash registers, shopping carts, and checkout lines, filling the empty space with technology. The convenience store opened up in Seattle in early January 2018.3 Upon entering, shoppers sign on to their Amazon profile through their mobile device.4 Once all items a shopper wishes to purchase are in their shopping bag, they freely exit.5 Payment is billed to their Amazon account and the store shelf technology tracks the item and bills customers accordingly.6 For this technological convenience store to monitor shoppers as effectively as humans do, there are hundreds of cameras and sensors throughout the store.

Privacy experts predict that Amazon will face questions about shopper data that they will collect through Amazon Go.7 The store tracks shopper movement including the items they pick up and buy, or pick up and put right back down.8 At a traditional convenience store, records of the items purchased by consumers are available at the cash register. Analogously, at Amazon’s website, your profile records users’ order history and products users have browsed.9 Users are made aware of this data collection when Amazon emails users about similar products they might want to purchase based on history of purchases, or the products that come up as ads that are exactly what the user has looked at or purchased before.

Are consumers okay with this level of intrusion in person? Cameras are likely to follow shoppers throughout the store, and maybe even record when the consumer lingers at an aisle to determine which aisles are the most populated. Joseph Jerome, policy counsel for the Washington nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology, states that the process is “really blurring our offline and online lives together.”10

Amazon contends that with all the data it collects, it does not record facial recognition.  Nonetheless, the first day of Amazon Go’s launch, demonstrators came out wearing masks to shop through the convenience store.11 Will masks be able to hide us from the eyes of technology? Stay tuned.

  1. See Kate Kaye, Location Tracking and the Trouble With ‘Opting In’, Ad Age (Oct. 3, 2016), [].

  2. Id.

  3. See Drew Harwell and Abha Bhattarai, Inside Amazon Go: The Camera-Filled Convenience Store That Watches You Back, The Washington Post (Jan. 22, 2018), [].

  4. Id.

  5. Id.

  6. Id.

  7. Id.

  8. Id.

  9. See Joel Lee, Shopping vs. Privacy: What Does Amazon Know About You?, Make Use Of (March 2017), [].

  10. See Harwell, supra note 3.

  11. Id.

Yarelyn Mena

Yarelyn Mena is a second-year J.D. candidate at Fordham University School of Law and a staff member of the Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Law Journal. Prior to law school, Yarelyn graduated cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology, from Hunter College, City University of New York.