Amazon Go: Can Others Keep Up?

Recently in Seattle, Amazon Go, a physical grocery store owned by Amazon.com, Inc., was opened up for beta testing. Currently available only to Amazon employees, the company has kept somewhat quiet on exactly how the underlying technology within the store functions, with some information available within their patents and FAQ.

In order to ensure accuracy, Amazon Go is rumored to take advantage of several different technologies: weighted sensors, RFID, cameras, microphones, and other recording technology, facial recognition, skin tone analysis, purchase history, computer vision, sensor fusion, and even AI and machine learning. Utilizing the data collected, purchases are more accurately synced to the correct account and users are billed for items taken.

Some are already showing apprehension about being tracked by such methods in a store; however, much of this is already in place in on Amazon.com and other online retail giants—the physical tracking just takes it one step further. Users are already tracked and targeted with products based on their search and purchase histories within online stores and throughout the internet via ad networks.

Another thought to consider is that in the execution of such a seamless and futuristic shopping experience, Amazon is indirectly pressuring other retail and grocery giants to follow suit or get left in the dust. This begs the question, can other grocery stores and retail locations handle this magnitude of data protection and security? The simple answer is: not alone. Maybe for this reason, partnerships similar to what we’re seeing within the autonomous vehicle industry (GM and Lyft, Toyota and Microsoft, etc.) will soon be reflected in retail. “Whole Foods, brought to you by Alphabet, Inc.” could be closer than we realize.

Without partnerships such as this, it is doubtful that typical grocery and other retail locations will have the capacity to keep up with competition once Amazon Go locations become more commonplace. Either way, these changes could take retailers one step past the threat of POS malware to headlines such as, “Grocery Chain DDoSed” or “Retail Giant Temporarily Closes, Users Issued New Authentication After Data Breach”.

On a smaller scale, if someone were to get ahold of a single user’s login credentials and use someone else’s account to shop, would the physical recognition technologies prevent this? Can several users in a household all use the same account without confusing the system? Also, what is to prevent an attacker from carefully and physically scoping out the store itself in order to find ways to sidestep or exploit systems in place?

While technological advancements increase efficiency and convenience, an inadvertent consequence is an encouragement for criminal innovation. For now, the world will just have to wait and see the positive and negative influences that Amazon Go might have on the future of retail technology and security.

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