I walked into the heart of surveillance capitalism and left with a pre-packaged sandwich for lunch.
That about sums up my experience at the Amazon Fresh grocery store in downtown Washington, D.C. The company made famous for bringing goods to your door is now expanding its presence into traditional brick-and-mortar spaces—but with a nontraditional tech twist. D.C.'s Amazon Fresh store has no cash registers or cashiers. A shopper must scan a QR code linked to an Amazon account at a turnstile to enter. Cameras synced to Amazon's Just Walk Out technology track what items you remove from shelves as you browse. When you do "just walk out," this technology totals up the cost of the items you took, charges your Amazon account, and sends you an emailed receipt.
It's pretty seamless and convenient. But not everyone approves. For some, Amazon Fresh has provoked anxiety for the inevitable corporate panopticon dystopia it signals. Each bag of chips you pick up or avocado you prod for ripeness emits little bits of data that Amazon hoovers up and stores away in its digital vaults. One can't precisely know what that data will be used for or by whom. Still, mass use of credit and store club cards show most Americans have already surrendered in the war for grocery privacy.
I'll personally take Amazon's model over D.C.'s other grocery stores, where a uniformed security guard reminds you to wear a mask as you wait for cashiers to individually inspect the items in your cart.