Technology

Tomorrow’s Biometric Tech Makes Most Americans Feel Uneasy Today

Image Credit: Unsplash: tamara-bellis

Most people are already familiar with fingerprint authentication that can unlock smartphones, or Facebook’s facial recognition feature that can identify you in photos. But those are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to biometric tech in our everyday lives. 

No longer the stuff of Bond or sci-fi movies, the field of biometrics is rapidly advancing. The question of the day is, are you ready to buy your groceries just by scanning your hand?

Amazon, which released its facial recognition software Rekognition last year, is now planning to install its new hand scanning technology at Whole Foods locations across the country, exclusively for Prime members. No credit card or smartphone required, no implanted microchip — the technology will identify a customer by their hand and charge their card on file.

Major players are moving deeper and deeper into biometric territory, merging tech with body, but how does this sit with Americans? 

First, taking a broad look, out of 1,989 U.S. respondents (age 13+), not even 20% felt comfortable with Amazon’s hand recognition technology. The majority of people said they were not at all comfortable.

Results fared slightly better when investigating Apple’s new skin sensor technology for the Apple Watch. A leader in integrating biometrics into devices (e.g., Touch ID, Face ID), Apple recently secured patents on skin identification for their smartwatches. The watch could unlock by identifying patterns in the owner’s skin, as well as perform other functions.

The survey showed that 22% of respondents said they felt comfortable with Apple’s technology, less than half feeling not at all comfortable, and one-third feeling uncertain (out of 3,300 U.S. respondents, age 13+).

Americans Have Trust Issues

It’s still very early on in the game to predict how people will actually react when face to face with the technology, but the low levels of comfortability seen in both surveys beg the question of personal privacy and the relationship to major corporations like Apple and Amazon. How close is too close for most Americans? 

Data show that the majority (60%) have low to zero trust that leading technology companies protect their privacy. About 10% have a high level of trust, while the remaining one-third fall somewhere in the middle.

As you might expect, those who are more trusting of leading tech companies are significantly more likely to feel comfortable (at some level) with both Apple’s new skin identification and Amazon’s hand scan:

However, even those with high to medium levels of trust in tech companies felt less comfortable with Amazon’s hand scan.

One explanation has to do with Americans’ issue with mobile payment — basically, we’re just not that into it. The U.S. lags behind China and Europe when it comes to adopting mobile payment that uses smartphone apps, such as Apple Pay or Google Wallet, to make purchases. And a study published last year by CivicScience found that security concerns were the main reason, more so than data privacy concerns.

A main goal of biometric technology is to increase security, but the hesitancy to use payment apps could translate to slow adoption.

Amazon and Apple Customers 

On the flip side, Whole Foods customers may jump at the chance to pay ‘by hand.’ The survey indicates that nearly 50% of frequent Whole Foods shoppers (who shop several times a month) are comfortable with the new hand scan payment technology, and nearly 30% feel “very comfortable.”

Comfortability declines along with shopping frequency.

Likewise, a total of 56% of Apple Watch owners are comfortable with skin sensor technology, which is four times more than those who don’t own an Apple Watch and don’t intend to.

Acceptance of these kinds of cutting-edge biometric technologies is low among the larger population, but much higher among the small segments that are Whole Foods and Apple customer bases. In addition to trust concerns, brand favorability and loyalty may play important roles in deciding how people feel about and adopt biometrics moving forward. 

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