Amazon is gathering data about body types by inviting volunteers to get scanned, taped, and photographed. As spotted by Mashable, the company is running a study to “learn about diversity among body shapes,” offering a $25 gift card for a 30-minute appointment in New York. Participants will take a survey and assent to 3D scans (plus photos and videos) of their body — first in their everyday attire, then in “form-fitting” clothing.
The study is run by Amazon Body Labs, originally a startup that Amazon acquired in 2017. Body Labs produced detailed 3D body models for shopping and gaming; as Mashable notes, it grew out of an attempt to identify criminals with computer vision techniques. And Amazon has gathered this kind of body data before. The Wall Street Journal reported on a longer-term study in 2018, when Amazon asked to scan participants several times over a 20-week period, measuring changes to body shape over time.
Here, Amazon is asking for a much smaller commitment over a shorter period of time: it’s taking participants through June 30th at one of two New York City locations. The company promises it will use the data “exclusively for internal product research and not for marketing purposes.” It also promises to provide the form-fitting clothing that volunteers will wear — a bikini is “preferred” for women, although they can also wear shorts and a sports bra.
Amazon doesn’t specify the exact kind of research, but it’s likely interested in applying body scanning tech to products like the Amazon Echo Look, a “style assistant” camera that takes pictures and analyzes them to provide fashion advice. A home body scan, for instance, could let people virtually try on clothes — something that online retailers have been trying to perfect for years.
The prospect of Amazon collecting detailed data about consumers’ bodies is creepy, but for now, this is a pretty limited study. If Amazon wants to use 3D scanning in commercial technology, gathering information about diverse body shapes is incredibly important — it’s far better than relying on a limited set of data points that could be skewed by race or gender bias. And there are plenty of weirder, more invasive volunteer research gigs elsewhere. But there is seemingly a brief nod to how privacy regulation might change Amazon’s behavior: if you’re from Illinois — a state known for its strong biometric privacy protections — then it’s no body scan (or gift card) for you.