Amazon unveils payment by hand-waving

Handy tech: Amazon’s palm recognition payment system Amazon One is trialled in Seattle, Washington. (AFP)
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Updated 01 October 2020

Amazon unveils payment by hand-waving

  • Amazon One uses each individual’s ‘unique palm signature,’ an alternative to other biometric identifiers such as fingerprint, iris or facial recognition

WASHINGTON: Amazon unveiled a new biometric payment system using palm recognition, to be made available to rival retailers and also promoted as a replacement for badge entry at stadiums or workplaces.

The system called Amazon One was touted as “a fast, convenient, contactless way for people to use their palm to make everyday activities like paying at a store, presenting a loyalty card, entering a location like a stadium, or badging into work more effortless.”

The US technology giant said it would be installing the system at its Amazon Go retail locations, starting with two stores in its hometown of Seattle, Washington.

Amazon vice president Dilip Kumar said the system was developed as “a quick, reliable, and secure way for people to identify themselves or authorize a transaction.”

Amazon One uses each individual’s “unique palm signature,” an alternative to other biometric identifiers such as fingerprint, iris or facial recognition.

“No two palms are alike, so we analyze all these aspects with our vision technology and select the most distinct identifiers on your palm to create your palm signature,” Kumar said in a blog post. In Amazon Go stores, the palm-waving system will be added to the store’s entry gate as an option for shoppers.

“In most retail environments, Amazon One could become an alternate payment or loyalty card option with a device at the checkout counter next to a traditional point of sale system,” Kumar added.

The company said it was “in active discussions with several potential customers,” which could include other retailers, but offered no details. The announcement comes amid rapid growth in the use of biometric payments ranging from fingerprint verification on smartphones to more sophisticated systems using facial recognition.

China’s Alipay — the financial arm of e-commerce giant Alibaba — has been using a “Smile-to-Pay” system, with a machine roughly the size of an iPad, for retailers.

The shift has also raised privacy concerns about how biometric data will be safeguarded and protected from hackers.

Amazon said the biometric data would be “protected by multiple security controls and palm images are never stored on the Amazon One device” but send to a “highly secure area we custom-built in the cloud.”

Doug Stephens of the consulting firm Retail Prophet, said Amazon would need to protect the data to gain user trust in the system to make it mainstream.

“Biometrics as a form of ID/payment etc. has always made ultimate sense,” Stephens said on Twitter. “The question is, will Amazon mainstream our comfort with them or violate our trust?”


China’s niche LNG buyers plan billion-dollar investments, double imports amid reforms

Updated 2 min 9 sec ago

China’s niche LNG buyers plan billion-dollar investments, double imports amid reforms

SINGAPORE: A group of niche Chinese gas firms is set to make waves in the global market with plans to invest tens of billions of dollars and double imports in the next decade as Beijing opens up its vast energy pipeline network to more competition.

The companies, mostly city gas distributors backed by local authorities, are ramping up purchases of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as newly formed national pipeline operator PipeChina begins leasing third parties access to its distribution lines, terminals and storage facilities from this month.

The acceleration in demand in what is already the world’s fastest-growing market for the super-chilled fuel is a boon for producers such Royal Dutch Shell, Total and traders like Glencore faced with oversupply and depressed prices.

Just last month, UK’s Centrica signed a 15-year binding deal to supply Shanghai city gas firm Shenergy Group 0.5 million tons per year of LNG starting in 2024.

“They’re very, very interested in imports — we’re talking to a lot of them already,” said Kristine Leo, China country manager for Australia’s Woodside Energy, which signed a preliminary supply deal with private gas distributor ENN Group last year.

China could buy a record 65-67 million tons of LNG this year and is expected to leapfrog Japan to become the world’s top buyer in 2022. Imports could surge 80 percent from 2019 to 2030, according to Lu Xiao, senior analyst at consultancy IHS Markit.

State-owned Guangdong Energy Group, Zhejiang Energy Group, Zhenhua Oil and private firms like ENN were quick to take advantage of the market reforms and low spot prices for LNG, said Chen Zhu, managing director of Beijing-based consultancy SIA Energy.

Their imports will reach some 11 million tons this year, up 40 percent versus 2019, more than 17 percent of China’s total purchases, said Chen.

For years such companies have worked to expand a domestic consumer base among so-called “last mile” gas users like tens of millions of households, shopping malls and factories, but they had to rely on state majors for supplies.

With greater access to distribution networks, they are now incentivized to build their own import terminals that could account for 40 percent of the country’s LNG receiving capacity by 2030, versus 15 percent now, Chen said.

Frank Li, assistant to president of China Gas Holdings, a private piped gas distributor, said his company has been in talks with PipeChina for infr structure access as it prepares to import LNG next year.

In Southern China’s industrial hub Guangdong, companies like Guangzhou Gas, Shenzhen Gas and Guangdong Energy hold small stakes in LNG facilities operated by China National Offshore Oil Company. They imported their first cargoes from these terminals last year.

Guangzhou Gas is set to import 13 LNG shipments this year, up from five last year, after “tough negotiations” with CNOOC won it access to terminals, said Vice President Liu Jingbo.

“The reform is bringing us diversified supplies, helping us cut cost,” Liu said.

Some companies also plan to beef up trading expertise by opening offices overseas, such as in Singapore, executives said.

“Naturally, companies will be thinking of growing into a meaningful player globally,” said a trading executive with Guangdong Energy, adding that his firm looks to Tokyo Gas , Japan’s top gas distributor and trader, as a model.

The rise of niche players will erode some market share held by state giants CNOOC, PetroChina and Sinopec, prompting them to scale back gas infrastructure investment and focus on global trading, while extending into retail gas distribution at home, officials said.