At first blush, Amazon’s new “Alexa, pay for petrol” feature looks like a little teaser for the truckload of new IoT devices likely coming this week. You can already tell Alexa to order things online, and Alexa’s new power to help you auto-pay at the petrol pump seems like a narrower version of ordering from your phone at Starbucks and a dumb Alexa add-on to remove the small miseries of friction (in this case, sticking your credit card in a machine). But if this is the future of retail, we’re fucked.
Within the coming months, Amazon Pay customers will be able to command their Echo Autos or Alexa-enabled devices to pay for petrol at Exxon Mobil stations, powered by tech from the digital commerce company Fiserv. Alexa confirms your location and the pump number, and then you physically exit the car and pump the petrol. At the time of the rollout later this year, devices will be implemented in 11,500 petrol stations in the U.S.
And that’s it. Amazon corners the market on petrol. I’m not shedding any tears for the Apple Card or Cash App, but even with their sweet discount offerings (Apple, Chipotle, respectively), the companies still have to battle it out.
There’s also not much reason to believe this is any more secure than traditional payment methods. Like countless data collection companies, e-commerce sites, and point of sales systems, the digital commerce company powering the transactions, Fiserv, has suffered a major breach in the past. In 2018, a security researcher reported that they had easily accessed other banking customers’ data, including account numbers, through a flaw in its banking platforms. In this case, a Fiserv spokesperson clarified to Gizmodo that the process doesn’t involve exchanging any consumer payment credentials, as it creates a secure token for each transaction. Amazon is then responsible for customers’ data, which is cold comfort that among other things two Amazon Web Services servers holding 540 million Facebook records were left exposed just last year.
Security aside, we might consider the freedoms we’ve already sacrificed to Amazon in order to save the minor inconvenience of getting our asses off the couch and opening the door. We can rue the unholy union between an oil giant and a retail monopoly. We can run down the list of pre-existing evils of Amazon devices–more data collection, more surveillance (by cops, perhaps), more location tracking, more opportunity for hackers to watch you pick your nose in the car or perhaps listen to you read off your credit card information. But IoT is here, you say, and credit card information is already obtainable, and we’re already leaving digital breadcrumbs everywhere we go, you say. If you don’t care about all of those things, maybe just consider that this company is evil. And besides, you still have to go out in the cold and pump your own petrol, and the buttons are still gross, the pumps are still leaky, and you have to stand around with the pump in your hand with your own flesh and bones. And it’s fine. We don’t have to kneel before this god.