GameStop Stores In Philadelphia Using Finger Scanning

If you love trading used games at GameStop outlets in Philadelphia, be prepared to have your finger interrogated.


Photo: ktsdesign / Shutterstock

A new policy at all GameStop stores in the city of brotherly love requires customers to provide their fingerprints when trading in video games for store credit or cash. Customers have to electronically scan their thumbs at the outlets during the process of trading in.

In a statement, a representative of GameStop claims that the company started requesting finger scanning at the request of the Philly police department. The representative also said that other GameStop outlets across the US have similar barriers in place depending on local and state authorities.

But City Solicitor Shelley Smith informs that the city is not requiring GameStop to comply with the ordinance:

“What GameStop does doesn’t meet any of the elements of the definition in the code, so the pawnbreaker ordinance doesn’t apply to GameStop.”

Yet, GameStop is still demanding customers to give their fingerprints when trading in a game. CBS Philly reported that the company is simply following the law and collecting fingerprints, which then go into a database accessible by law enforcement to assist in tracking down criminals selling stolen products.

LeadsOnline is the database being used – it is responsible for processing millions of transactions per month by more than 10,000 secondhand goods outlet across the country. The law enforcement can access the database by typing in a case number they want to investigate. Once they enter the database, they can search any of the transactions, regardless of where they took place, by using different measures.

According to PhillyMag, Christie O’Brien, spokesperson for Philadelphia Police, said that though pawnbrokers are required to collect fingerprints, police make requests of other companies that might tend to provide a platform for thieves trying to unload stolen products.

“GameStop proactively decided to get involved,” informed O’Brien. “It would benefit the city, the police, and their customers. It’s a win-win. Now, I don’t know why they would decide to stop. If your home gets burglarized, wouldn’t you want police to have this tool?”

Customers outside the GameStop location in the city center and other spots aren’t too pleased with this policy implementation:

“I really don’t appreciate it. You fingerprinted me like I’m in a police district. No, I’m at a game store,” said a customer.

“I think it’s an overreach. It’s going too far,” said another.

Anti-theft policies like this often disrupt proceedings for normal customers in the wrong way. A report by Polygon published in 2012 reveals how ten states in the US and District of Columbia made it mandatory for all “businesses to meticulously detail the used gaming habits of their customers and share that information with police.”

The issue of privacy

Understandably, customers and privacy advocates have been vocal about this policy. The US government programs have already been under heavy fire for spying on US citizens; now even brick and mortar outlets want to put the biometric data of average citizens in a massive database.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, because the privacy problem is already widespread then just a few GameStop outlets collecting your fingerprints. Almost every other brick and mortar store across America track identifiable details about their customers (through SSN, driver’s license, and many other means), and then report that to the local authorities. So this isn’t a massive surveillance mission for second-hand game traders.

That said, there would still be concerns pertaining to unauthorized disclosure. Biometric collection will undermine a gamer who comes to trade in at a GameStop shop control over his or her own primate information. Fears of losing control over personal information are the base of privacy concerns; and average customers may not be informed where the biometric data is being stored: a database (that could be hacked).

SANS Institute cites an example in a whitepaper of how biometric data was collected at a SuperBowl event without the knowledge and consent of the public, with a method not fully understood for the impact it could have. Later, it was evident that people don’t like it when systems are used in such a manner, whether they’re in place for their protection or not.

International Biometric Industry Association executive director Richard Norton says:

“The real perception problems come from passive technologies that can be used without public knowledge. … We haven’t seen any backlash over the public hysteria but we need to make sure this technology isn’t abused…if it is, the public would lose their confidence completely.”

As it stands, GameStop may need to be more transparent about the new policy when dealing with trade-ins.