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The Brave New World of Grocery Shopping

Scanning human beings like they are cans of soup is a gross violation of human dignity.
May 20th, 2022

By Jim Towey

Rising prices aren’t the only things on the minds of grocery shoppers.  Big business and artificial intelligence are teaming up to fundamentally alter the supermarket experience by tying it to the retrieval of the most personal information you possess – your biometric data.

I saw in rocanews.com this week that MasterCard intends to implement a biometric payments system that relies on facial recognition and fingerprints for payments.  The terminals at select supermarkets in Brazil where this will be tested will use these biometrics to verify the purchaser’s identity and then link them up to their accounts. 

Trust us, it’s voluntary and secure

Of course, MasterCard makes all of the promises you would expect from a company pioneering transactional AI: the program is voluntary, privacy of your biometric data will be super secure, trust us, and consumer satisfaction will determine whether this “trial” spreads beyond South America. Those of us who already have watched the biometric rodeo a few times and witnessed how what starts as voluntary becomes compulsory if you want to access the services or products of the business using it, know where this is headed.  Shoppers who choose not to participate will either have to wait in the long line reserved for those who aren’t “enlightened” enough to embrace biometrics (this is what happens with CLEAR at airports and stadiums), or have to buy their food somewhere else. I watched this “bait and switch” ploy play out at a health conference in NY earlier this year where biometric data was required of registrants by the host’s Covid protocols.  Individuals who didn’t comply and give up their face scans couldn’t attend.  How’s that for voluntariness?  As we saw with other Covid policies, the slope from voluntary to mandatory can get slippery in a hurry. 

MasterCard is late to the biometrics game.  Amazon began a similar move to intertwine biometrics to grocery shopping earlier this year at a store in the Glover Park neighborhood not far from where I live in the Washington, DC area.  Amazon now gives shoppers there the option to skip the Whole Foods checkout line by scanning the palms of their hands and linking this data to their personal accounts.  Amazon even doubled down on the dystopian effect.  Hundreds of cameras hang from the store’s ceiling and monitor your every movement and selection, with shelf sensors detecting when an item has been removed and placed into your basket.  Shoppers depart the store with their goods in the same hands they used to scan their way to aisle one.  A detailed bill arrives electronically within hours.

Replacing people with robots

So much for chats with cashiers about the produce!  Amazon calls the experience “Just Walk Out,” a message better tailored to Whole Foods’ cashiers.  The company claims that the number of their Glover Park employees should be “comparable” to before the switch, but don’t bet on that holding. One look at Amazon’s warehouses and the over 200,000 robots laboring there in place of humans tells you where Amazon is headed.  Five years ago they only had 45,000.  Why are labor unions silent when their voice is needed?

Companies like MasterCard and Amazon which entice you to use your personal biometrics through promises of convenience and efficiency aren’t interested in either.  They want higher profits, lower human resource costs, and more of your hard-earned money.  In the case of MasterCard, they want to reduce the fraud that comes through the unauthorized use of credit cards, and what better way short of DNA sampling than to capture your unique facial characteristics or fingerprints? 

Another agenda is at work here.  The tech giants, credit card companies and a host of other big business interests want to eliminate the use of cash.  Joining your biometrics to your finances accomplishes this neatly.  These massive companies have the resources and patience to slowly institute changes that all of us with objections to them will be powerless to reverse. 

What about the elderly and poor?

Scanning human beings like they are cans of soup is a violation of human dignity. For individuals who aren’t technologically inclined, and the poor who aren’t credit worthy, these stores might as well post a sign next to their scanners which reads:  The elderly and poor are not welcome here.  

Think twice before you participate in the rapidly-accelerating move toward the use of biometrics in verifying a person’s identity – and worth.  Just say no.


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