Amazon plans to launch its Amazon Go brand of grocery stores, which has been tested and developed by Amazon staff at its Seattle HQ. David Sheppard, from our Employment law team, looks at what this might mean for the future of retail and privacy.
Essentially, shoppers enter the store through a Tube-style turnstile and scan a QR code on their smartphone. They then take any items they wish to purchase, or return them to the shelves if they change their mind.
Infra-red ceiling cameras and weight sensors on the shelves track shoppers' movements and register every item they take. When shoppers leave, they're issued a receipt - which is automatically charged to their Amazon Prime account.
This system raises some interesting questions about shoppers' privacy and data processing - particularly in light of the upcoming GDPR. It's also an example of the ever-accelerating dominance of tech in our everyday lives (see our article on microchipping employees).
Monitoring shoppers goes far beyond the relatively basic technology of CCTV: the infra-red cameras recognise movements of individuals, and differentiate between different shoppers - as opposed to providing a simple 2D image of a snapshot of time and space. The data of shopping history and habits will also be extremely valuable information for marketing purposes. For such systems to be GDPR compliant,clear signage - at the very least - will need to be at the entrance of stores, explaining why and how personal monitoring and data will be processed.
This also has massive implications for employee monitoring in the workplace. The cameras will presumably be intelligent enough to ascertain the efficiency and performance of workers in all manner of jobs - like warehouse work, retail, healthcare and hospitality. Monitoring performance in this way raises ethical questions, which inevitably conflict with rights to privacy in the workplace.
This conflict isn't new. The European Court of Human Rights recently found that CCTV monitoring of lecturerse at the University of Montenegro (intended to protect students and monitor teaching) was disproportionate, and in breach of lecturers' rights to privacy.
Amazon Go gives us a glimpse of our possible future shopping experiences. But, it faces serious legal restrictions in Europe to make sure it complies with both data and human rights protections.
In a move that could revolutionise the way we buy groceries, Amazon has opened a supermarket with no checkout operators or self-service tills. Long queues formed outside the Amazon Go store in Seattle before it opened its doors to the public on Monday. It uses hundreds of ceiling-mounted cameras and electronic sensors to identify each customer and track the items they select. Purchases are billed to customers' credit cards when they leave the store. On entering the store, shoppers walk through gates similar to those in the London underground, swiping their smartphones loaded with the Amazon Go app. Then they are free to put any of the sandwiches, salads, drinks and biscuits on the shelves straight into their shopping bags.