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The dark side of Amazon’s marvelous retail store of the future

Amazon Go Retail Store

A few days ago, Amazon unveiled the retail store of the future. You walk in with your smartphone, get the items you wanted, and walk out. In Amazon Go shops there won’t be a cash register or lines. Amazon’s advanced artificial intelligence will handle everything that’s related to the payment and checkout experiences of shopping. It will replace cashiers with something more efficient, but this advanced tech is also slightly creepy.

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In order for Amazon to actually know what you picked up from a shelf, how many items you got, and what things you put back, it needs to monitor you. To do that, it’ll track you in a variety of ways, from interacting with your phone, to simply following you around in the store with its cameras and advanced face and product recognition software.

Amazon has not really explained how everything works, other than telling us that everything works. But, as FastCoDesign explains, Amazon will mix the special Amazon Go smartphone app with “some combination of machine learning, computer vision, and sensors,” to keep track of your shopping.

The idea is brilliant and should make traditional shopping obsolete. At the same time, it’s also a little creepy. To work, you’ll likely need to accept Amazon’s tracking every time you go into a store.

The app on your phone will likely trigger tracking features once you step inside the store. Cameras will monitor your face to link you to your Amazon account that you’ll use for paying, and other cameras will track your interaction with products on the shelves.

Again, Amazon won’t say exactly how it does it. But the scenario above is plausible considering what’s possible with sophisticated technology today.

How will Amazon protect the data it collects? Will Amazon store that data to build better profiles about its customers? Will it share data with law enforcement if asked to? These are all questions that Amazon has not addressed.

Ultimately, you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth trading some of your privacy for the seamless shopping experience Amazon wants to offer. And something tells me that Amazon will not be the only company deploying such technology in retail stores in the future.

Chris Smith started writing about gadgets as a hobby, and before he knew it he was sharing his views on tech stuff with readers around the world. Whenever he's not writing about gadgets he miserably fails to stay away from them, although he desperately tries. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

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