Amazon Faces Lawsuit Under New York City Privacy Law

In 2021, a new privacy law took effect in New York City. It requires businesses to post clear and conspicuous signs near their entrances if they plan to collect, retain, or share the biometric information of their customers. This includes things like fingerprints and facial scans. Under the law, consumers have a private right of action. This means that they can sue a business for violating the law. (However, before bringing a lawsuit, a consumer must notify the business of the violation and give them 30 days to fix the problem.) Penalties for each signage violation can be up to $500.

Based on this private right of action, the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project has helped a consumer bring a class action lawsuit against Amazon in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The complaint argues that Amazon did not tell customers at its Amazon Go stores in New York City that it was using technology to track their shapes and sizes, as well as their palm prints.

Amazon first opened these stores in New York City in 2019. A customer can take an item from an Amazon Go store without checking out, an especially attractive option once the COVID-19 pandemic started a year later. Amazon relies on its technology to track a customer’s actions, and it will charge their account accordingly when they leave the store.

In response to the lawsuit, Amazon explained that it offers Amazon One, a contactless identity and payment service, at Amazon Go stores alongside other options like credit cards and its app. The company said that it collects biometric data in the form of palm prints only from people who enroll in Amazon One and choose to use their palm prints for identification. Amazon asserts that customers have full control over when they are identified through their palms.

Earlier this month, Amazon installed signs acknowledging its use of this technology, but nearly two years had passed since the law took effect. The lawsuit further alleges that the signs do not go far enough to meet requirements. For example, the lawsuit says that the signs are not adequately “clear and conspicuous,” as required by the city law.

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