First appeared in NewsBreak
By Aron Solomon
On January 11, 2021, the City of New York enacted a new law that requires retailers and other commercial establishments that collect, retain, convert, store, or share customers’ “biometric identifier information” to notify their customers of these practices before customers enter those establishments.
This law, known as “The Biometric Identifier Information Law,” went into effect in July 2021 and is designed to protect the privacy and security of individuals’ biometric data.
Under the law, businesses that collect biometric data from customers must provide notice in the form of a sign that is visible and legible. The sign must be posted at every entrance to the business premises where biometric data is being collected. The sign must also state that the business is collecting biometric information and must include the purpose for which the information is being collected.
Biometric information includes any unique physical or behavioral characteristics that can be used to identify an individual. Examples of biometric information include fingerprints, facial recognition data, voiceprints, retina scans, and DNA. The law covers any business that collects biometric information from customers, including retailers, financial institutions, and healthcare providers.
The purpose of the law is to provide individuals with more control over their biometric data and to protect their privacy and security. By requiring businesses to post clear and conspicuous notices, customers can make more informed decisions about whether they want to provide their biometric information to a business. The law also requires businesses to implement reasonable security measures to protect biometric data from unauthorized access or disclosure.
As NBC News reported, Amazon is being sued in a class action lawsuit over their failure to inform customers in an Amazon GO store that biometric technology was being used.
Tim Kalavruzos, a lawyer admitted to practice in New York, observed that:
“Businesses that violate the law can face significant penalties. Individuals can also bring lawsuits against businesses that violate the law (N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 22-1201 et seq.) and can seek damages, attorney fees, and injunctive relief.”
Amazon GO stores use a combination of several biometric technologies to enable a checkout-free shopping experience. Here is an overview of how the biometric technology works in an Amazon GO store:
Computer Vision: The store uses computer vision technology to track the movements of shoppers and the items they pick up from the shelves. The technology uses cameras and sensors installed in the store to detect when a customer picks up an item, and when they put it back on the shelf.
Machine Learning: The system is powered by machine learning algorithms that analyze the data collected by the cameras and sensors. The algorithms can recognize the products picked up by the customers and keep track of them as they move around the store.
Facial Recognition: When a customer enters an Amazon GO store, they must scan a QR code on their phone to open the store’s entrance gate. Once inside, the system uses facial recognition technology to identify the customer and match them with their Amazon account.
Payment Information: The system uses the payment information stored in the customer’s Amazon account to charge them for the items they picked up and walked out with. The system sends a receipt to the customer’s Amazon account after they leave the store.
The New York law requiring businesses to post signs letting customers know they’re tracking biometric information is designed to protect the privacy and security of individuals’ biometric data is well-intended. By requiring businesses to provide clear and conspicuous notice to customers and implement reasonable security measures to protect biometric data, New York is doing what it sees necessary to protect customer identities.
While Amazon will argue that this is exactly how Amazon GO stores work, which is something a customer choosing to enter the store should understand, as similar laws continue to spread to other big cities, the result of this New York lawsuit will set the parameters for what businesses are required to divulge when we enter their stores.
About Aron Solomon
A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital and the Editor-in-Chief for Today’s Esquire. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal, Law.com, The Boston Globe, YouTube, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.