Panera Bread rolls out palm-scanning technology

Panera Bread is rolling out palm scanners that will link customers’ handprints to their loyalty accounts — a move the company paints as convenient but that privacy advocates have decried.

The biometric-gathering technology, developed by Amazon, will hit stores in the next few months, Panera said on Wednesday. The gadgets will help suggest menu items based on customers’ order histories and allow employees to greet customers by their names and share customers’ available rewards, the company said.

Panera Bread CEO Niren Chaudhary described the move as a “frictionless, personalized, and convenient” evolution of Panera’s loyalty program, which boasts 52 million members.

The fast-casual chain has already installed the scanners at locations in St. Louis, where it is headquartered, and says the scanners will “expand to additional locations in the coming months,” although it’s unclear how many of the chain’s 2,000-plus locations will be affected. Reuters reported that Amazon One technology is in use at some 200 locations across the country, including Amazon’s Whole Foods Market subsidiary and Amazon Go stores.

Panera says the technology will securely store its customers’ biometric data. However, digital rights activists worry that information could be tapped by federal agencies or accessed by hackers.

“Federal agencies like Customs and Border Protection have experienced devastating hacks where large databases of biometric information have been stolen,” Fight for the Future told CBS MoneyWatch in an email. “Do we really expect Amazon, or Panera, to have better cybersecurity practices?”

Panera and Amazon did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Amazon began using biometric-gathering technology at its Amazon Go locations in late 2020, but the payments system has raised some eyebrows and alarms. In 2021, a group of U.S. senators sent a letter to Amazon’s CEO requesting details about how the company intends to use customers’ data and whether it will continue to build up its biometric information.

Amazon’s tracking practices are also at the crux of a lawsuit filed earlier this month. The suit alleges the e-commerce giant skirted New York City data privacy laws by not disclosing to shoppers that it was collecting their biometric information.

Madelyn Skylar

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